WASHINGTON (JTA) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ripped Hamas for ignoring a cease-fire call and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.
“I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a cease-fire in which Egypt and Israel have joined together,” Kerry said Tuesday in Vienna, where he was attending Iran nuclear talks.
The previous evening, U.S. President Barack Obama defended Israel at an annual White House event honouring prominent Muslim Americans.
Israel abided for six hours by the terms of an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire on Tuesday, the eighth day of the Gaza conflict, before resuming airstrikes due to the unabated rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
“Israel has a right to defend itself, and it is important for Hamas not to be provoking and purposefully trying to play politics in order to gain greater followers for its opposition, and use the innocent lives of civilians who they hide in buildings and use as shields and put in danger,” Kerry said.
“That is against the laws of war and that’s why they are a terrorist organization. So we need to remember what is at stake here, and we will continue to work for a cease-fire.”
Obama at the Iftar dinner said, “I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.
“At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”
Nearly 200 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli operation dubbed Protective Edge. The Israeli army said it is striking at military targets.
A number of prominent Muslim Americans, and at least one umbrella body, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, had called for a boycott of the dinner, citing in part Obama’s backing for Israel in the current conflict.
“In the government’s silence, Israel is committing a massacre in Palestine with the possibility of an all-out ground assault,” the ADC said in a statement.
The Obama administration has said it would oppose an Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip.
“Nobody wants to see a ground invasion because that would put even more civilians at risk,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. “But again, this is Israel’s decision to make, and Israeli political leaders certainly have the right – even the responsibility – to protect their citizens, and that’s what they’ll do.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until now has resisted calls from some members of his Cabinet for a ground invasion, although on Tuesday, after Israel suffered its first death in the Gaza conflict, he said Israel would expand its attacks on the coastal strip.