International

U.S. Willing To Facilitate Gaza Cease-Fire, White House Says

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Israel escalated its aerial assaults on Gaza on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there are no plans for a cease-fire. i i

hide captionPalestinians inspect the rubble of a house hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Israel escalated its aerial assaults on Gaza on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there are no plans for a cease-fire.

Hatem Moussa/AP
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Israel escalated its aerial assaults on Gaza on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there are no plans for a cease-fire.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Israel escalated its aerial assaults on Gaza on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there are no plans for a cease-fire.

Hatem Moussa/AP

Update at 6:31 p.m. ET

The U.S. is prepared to facilitate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the White House said Thursday, as Israel continued its campaign of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and rockets fired by Hamas and other groups kept raining down on Israel.

The Israeli airstrikes have hit more than 700 targets in Gaza, killed at least 89 people and wounded more than 600. Hamas' rocket attacks have reached farther into Israel than ever before, sending people into shelters, but so far not causing any deaths.

In a statement, the White House said Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and reiterated Israel's right to defend itself against the rocket attacks.

"The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm," the White House statement said. "The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement."

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said discussing a cease-fire with Hamas is "not even on the agenda." Fawzi Barhoom, a Hamas spokesman, also said his group wasn't considering one.

At the U.N., Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called an emergency meeting of the Security Council to consult with members about the crisis.

NPR's Jackie Northam tells our Newscast unit:

"Ban told the Security Council that Gaza and the region as a whole cannot afford another full-blown war. He said the risk of an all-out escalation is preventable if Hamas stops firing rockets and mortars into Israel. But Ban also took Israel to task for what he called excessive force."

"I continue to condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza. Once again Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas' irresponsibility and Israel's tough response," Ban said.

Ban spent much of Wednesday speaking with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, along with Egyptian and U.S. officials, hoping to find a way to de-escalate tensions that have culminated in regular exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes from Israel and Hamas.

At the Security Council meeting Thursday, Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called on the U.N. to intervene.

"The Security Council cannot remain paralyzed and marginalized as Israeli war crimes continue against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip and in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem," he said.

But Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor accused Hamas, which controls Gaza, of "intentionally and indiscriminately" threatening all Israelis — something he said "no nation could tolerate.

"Asking Israel to show restraint while our cities are under constant attack is like asking a fire brigade to battle an inferno with nothing more than buckets of water," he said.

As we told you Wednesday, the escalating violence comes amid anger and unrest over four teenagers — three Israelis and one Palestinian — who died after being abducted. Until then, Israel and Hamas had observed a truce since 2012.

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