White House rejects US-Israel rift

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The U.S.-Israel relationship “remains strong and unchanged” despite frustration at the White House following a missile strike on a United Nations shelter in Gaza, the White House said Monday.

The attack on a U.N. school in Rafah over the weekend earned strong condemnation from administration officials, with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett calling the shelling “indefensible” and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki labeling it “disgraceful.”

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The White House echoed those concerns, saying the U.S. believed that “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

And press secretary Josh Earnest urged the “Israeli military to live up to their own standards when it comes to protecting the lives of innocent civilians.”

But the White House spokesman sought to downplay suggestions of a growing rift between Israel and the U.S.

Worries over such a split were been deepened by reports that that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admonished State Department officials “not to ever second-guess me again” after militants violated a cease-fire agreement.

“Israel continues to be one of this country’s strongest allies, and you saw that sentiment reciprocated in the remarks delivered by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu over the weekend, where he praised the United States for the level of support that the United States is providing to our ally,” Earnest said.

The White House noted that Netanyahu had praised the White House's statements condemning Palestinian rocket attacks and coordination with the Israeli defense forces operating a U.S.-funded missile defense system.

And Earnest said it was “deplorable” for Hamas to use civilians as cover to protect weapon stockpiles or fighters.

Netanyahu has not denied that he told Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro not to second-guess him, but told the AP that the reports did not reflect the “tone and substance” of his discussions with the U.S.

“I think the United States has been terrific,” Netanyahu said.

A public rift between the U.S. and Israel could hurt leaders on both sides. President Obama has grappled with criticism that he has not done enough to support Israel during his time in office, with some high-profile Democratic lawmakers breaking with him on foreign policy priorities, including the current nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, lost his bid to be reelected as prime minister in 1999 amid public disagreements with former President Bill Clinton over the Israel-Palestine peace process.