US President Barack Obama today said an incursion by Israel’s forces into the Gaza Strip could deepen its own death toll, cautioning against an escalation even as he defended Israel’s right to defend itself.
To Palestinians, Mr Obama warned the latest crisis could crush peace hopes for years.
“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” Mr Obama said at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.
“If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable,” he said.
“It’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It’s also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”
Mr Obama’s comments came as Israel’s campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza entered its fifth day.
Israel is at a crossroads over whether to launch a ground invasion or pursue Egyptian-led truce efforts.
Mr Obama sought to defend the US ally’s rights while pushing for a halt in the violence.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu declared today that Israel was prepared to significantly expand its military operation in Gaza. Mr Obama has been lobbying Mr Netanyahu along with the leaders of Egypt and Turkey to try to halt the crisis – including stopping rocket strikes on Israel.
He said Israel was justly responding to “an ever escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”.
Mr Obama said Palestinians will have no chance to pursue their own state and a lasting peace with Israel as long as rockets are fired into Israel. He said he hoped for a clearer process over the next 48 hours – showing how much the Mid East conflict had intruded on his diplomatic mission to Asia.
From Thailand, Mr Obama also defended his decision to go to Burma. He will be the first US president to visit the country, which is moving from a brutal reign toward democracy but still holds political prisoners and is living with ethnic violence.
“This is not an endorsement of the Burmese government,” Mr Obama said. “This is an acknowledgement that there is a process under way inside that country that even a year-and-a-half, two years ago, nobody foresaw.”
Mr Obama said he was also guided by Burma’s longtime democracy advocate, Aung Sung Suu Kyi, who visited him recently at the White House.
“I’m not somebody who thinks the United States should stand on the sidelines and not get its hands dirty when there’s an opportunity for us to encourage the better impulses inside a country,” he said.