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Smoke and fire are seen from an explosion by a high rise housing media organizations in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. It Smoke and fire are seen from an explosion by a high rise housing media organizations in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. It's the Israel's military second strike on the building in two days. The Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, is located on the top floor. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)  

Obama pressures Israel, Hamas allies for ‘de-escalation’

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama is pressuring Israel to curb its campaign against the terrorist group Hamas, which has launched hundreds of missiles at Israelis over the last few years from its base in the Gaza strip.

He is also urging pushing Egypt’s new Islamist government to push Hamas to stop firing rockets from Gaza, but there is no evidence that he is aiming for stringent curbs on Hamas’ ability to attack Israel again.

“Obama called President Morsi of Egypt [from a summit in Cambodia, and] the two leaders discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel,” said a Monday White House statement.

“The general goal here is de-escalation,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security advisor for strategic communications, told reporters while accompanying the president as he flew from Thailand to Cambodia on Nov. 19.

Rhodes’ statement highlighted Israel’s security needs and acknowledged that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” it was primarily focused on curbing the conflict, rather than on wrecking Hamas.

He also repeated that de-escalation must begin with “an end to rocket fire from Gaza.”

“The best way to make sure that Israel is secure and the situation doesn’t escalate is for there to be a peaceful resolution and de-escalation rather than a military — a continued military conflict,” Rhodes told reporters during a brief press conference on Air Force One en route to Cambodia.

Israeli officials, however, say their citizens cannot be secure while Hamas is able to launch rockets at Israeli towns.

Hamas opposes any peace with Israel, or even any talks that would lead to Muslims’ acceptance of the Jewish-run government in territory it deems to be Muslim-owned.

Obama’s long-distance effort to broker a peace comes as three leading Islamist governments — in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar — sought to protect Hamas from Israel’s air-strikes, and from a possible push into Gaza by Israeli ground forces.

All three governments host political or armed groups that are working to destroy Israel.

Rhodes outlined a major effort by administration officials to broker some kind of cease-fire.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “has spoken to a number of world leaders,” Rhodes said. She also spoke “to the Egyptian prime minister after he left Gaza … [and] to both the Qatari and the Turkish foreign ministers … [and] had a conference call with our ambassador in Israel on the flight into Burma,” he said.

However, Rhodes did not detail the talks, or say if the United States is pushing for the countries to curb Hamas’ military build-up.