By Justin Sink - 07/21/14 12:14 PM EDT
President Obama voiced “serious concerns” about civilian casualties in the Gaza conflict on Monday, saying he had dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to push for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“We don't want to see any more civilians getting killed,” Obama said.
Obama stressed that he believed Israel had a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks, and said it had “already done significant damage to Hamas's terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.”
“I've also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” Obama said. “And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”
Separately, the State Department announced that the United States planned to provide $47 million to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza. That includes $15 million for a United Nations relief fund recently established to help Palestinian refugees, and another $32 million to be administered by USAID.
“These funds will provide critical humanitarian aid, including shelter, food, and medical supplies to Palestinians in Gaza,” the State Department said in a statement.
Obama said Kerry had already departed for Egypt, where he would press leaders to resume a ceasefire and re-enter peace negotiations.
“The work will not be easy,” Obama said. “Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved. Nevertheless, I've asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities.”
Kerry was caught on a live mic over the weekend expressing frustration to an aide over the scope of the Israeli operation ahead of an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said sarcastically.
Confronted about the exchange, Kerry said he “reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does with respect to young children and civilians.”
But Kerry said, “we defend Israel’s right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels.”
Pressed on if the administration was losing patience with Israel’s approach to the ground war, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was “concerned about the violence that we've seen experienced by civilians on both sides of the border.”
“Israel must take greater steps to meet its own standards for protecting civilians from being killed, and we'll continue to send that message directly to the Israelis,” Earnest said.
This story was updated at 5:51 p.m.