By Justin Sink - 07/17/14 11:43 PM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit the scope of a ground invasion of Gaza in a phone call Thursday between the two leaders.
“The Secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces,” the State Department said in a statement.
Kerry “emphasized the need to avoid further escalation” to Netanyahu, and reiterated the “importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” according to the State Department.
The call appeared the strongest warning yet from the Obama Administration that it hoped Israel would refrain from a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip. The U.S. had previously said it hoped Netanyahu could avoid mounting any sort of ground offensive.
Earlier Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed.”
“We will continue to underscore that point to Israel,” she said.
Netanyahu in a statement earlier Thursday said the ground offensive was prompted by Hamas and other militant groups rejecting an Egyptian ceasefire proposal and continuing to shell Israeli civilians.
Hamas has said it would not agree to an agreement that does not also address its concerns over blockades that prevent the flow of supplies and construction materials into Gaza.
"The directive for ground action was approved by the security cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities," said the statement from the prime minister’s office.
So far, fighting between the sides has left at least one Israeli and some 235 Palestinians dead, according to multiple media reports.
In his conversation, Kerry “reinforced our continuing commitment to the Egyptian initiative as the way to do so, and underscored the importance of Hamas accepting this plan as soon as possible,” the State Department said.