Yet Rhodes also claimed wide agreement on a solution to the conflict. “I think we all agree that the best way to solve this is through diplomacy so that you have a peaceful settlement that ends that rocket fire and allows for a broader calm in the region,” he claimed.
But he also acknowledged Hamas’s ideological and religious hostility to Israel. “Hamas has not met the conditions that we’ve set for many years — to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to abide by preexisting agreements,” he said, adding “so we do not engage directly with Hamas.”
Nonetheless, Rhodes also hinted at possible Egyptian-brokered Israeli concessions to Hamas, which Israel likely would strongly oppose out of fear that Hamas will just launch another wave of missile attacks to get more concessions.
“We need to walk through the door here of restoring calm to the region, and then address some of the underlying challenges both within Gaza, where of course we’ve worked to support progress in the humanitarian situation,” he said.
Hamas officials say they won’t stop their attack unless Israel ends its practice of limiting the import of military-related items into the territory. Israel allows the transport of food, medicine and electricity into the Hamas-run enclave.
Despite Obama’s opposition, reports indicate the Israeli government may be preparing to send ground force into the enclave unless Hamas agrees to stop importing missiles from Iran, and to set up a kilometer-wide buffer along its border with Israel.
It is not clear how the rival demands from Hamas and Israel can be reconciled, even temporarily.
Egypt’s former U.S.-allied strongman, Hosni Mubarak, was removed in 2011 by a combination of public, Islamist and army pressure, with vocal support from Obama.
Egypt now has a parliament dominated by the combination of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist members and even more theocratic Salafi Islamists. Egypt’s current president, Mohamed Morsi, was a long-time member of the brotherhood’s political party.
The latest battle began when the brotherhood’s Gaza-based affiliate, Hamas, started launching rockets at Israel soldiers and Jewish civilians.
Since then, the Egyptian government has repeatedly described Hamas as the victim of Israel attacks, and its prime minister — Hisham Kandil— held up a dead child during a staged press event at a hospital with Hamas’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh.
“Egypt will spare no effort to stop the aggression,” Kandil later said.
“What I saw in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy, the martyr Mohammad Yasser, whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said.
Subsequent reports suggested the child was killed by an errant Hamas rocket, not by an Israeli strike.