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Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, stand guard as they wait for the arrival of Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in this December 7, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/Files Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, stand guard as they wait for the arrival of Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in this December 7, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/Files  

Obama Pressures Israel To Curb Anti-Tunnel Defense

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama stepped up his efforts Sunday to limit Israel’s gradual destruction of Hamas’ tunnel network in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza, which now conceals many of the rockets and jihadi units that attack Israelis.

In a morning call to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself [but] also raised serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza and the loss of Israeli soldiers,” said a 2.00 p.m. statement from the White House.

Israel’s government did not officially respond to Obama’s statement, which came after Israel ground units moved into Gaza to find the tunnels. The Gaza area is controlled by Hamas green-waving jihadis, whose mission is to destroy Israel because it is not controlled by Muslims.

The warring parties should comply with the 2012 ceasefire signed by Hamas, Israel and Egypt’s government, said the White House statement.

“Secretary of State John Kerry will soon travel to Cairo to seek an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the statement said.

That 2012 deal was brokered by Egypt’s Islamist government, which was then aligned with Hamas parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama strongly backed the deal and also the Islamist government, until after the government failed to protect the U.S. embassy from Islamist rioters in September 2012.

The Islamist ceasefire deal opened Gaza’s border posts with Egypt. After the fighting ended, Hamas imported more weapons and construction material for its tunnel network, which are now being used to attack Israel.

Since the 2012 deal was made, Egypt’s pro-Hamas government has been replaced by a new anti-Hamas, anti-brotherhood government.

That new government has drafted a new deal, which would open the border posts “once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.” Hamas fears that Egypt’s new government will never conclude the security situation is stable enough to reopen the border, and will continue to block the movement of weapons in Gaza.

Egypt’s new deal would also allow Israel to launch drones strikes against Hamas military forces.

Israel accepted the new deal, but Hamas rejected it on July 16.

For at least a week, Obama has been pressuring Israel to not attack Gaza.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas… [but] I believe further escalation benefits no one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” Obama told Muslim attendees at a July 14 dinner in the White House.

“Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks… But over the past two weeks, we’ve all been heartbroken by the violence, especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza —- men, women and children who were caught in the crossfire,” Obama said in July 16 statement to the media.

Obama’s deputy repeated that two-track message today — acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself, while also criticizing Israel’s attack on the tunnel network.

Kerry sat for an interview on Fox News, but privately criticized Israel’s tactics in Gaza during an intermission. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he said in a quick phone call to an aide. “We need to get over there… it is crazy to be siting around.”

When asked to explain his off-air comments, Kerry said that Israelis “have a right to go in take out those tunnels, we completely support that… [and] we defend Israel’s right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels.”

“Hamas has started this process of rocketing… [and now] is important for them to step up and be reasonable,” he said.

Obama’s July 20 intervention came as Israel ground forces pushed into the heavily populated Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza, which shields part of Hamas’ tunnel network from Israel surveillance and airstrikes.

The area is being strongly defended by Hamas jihadis carrying imported weaponry.

In overnight fighting, 13 Israel soldiers were killed, including seven in a troop-carrier which was destroyed by a land-mine, and three who were killed by an anti-tank missile.

Israel has urged local Arabs to leave the embattled neighborhood, but Hamas forces are reportedly blockading any civilian exodus.

“We urged the civilian population to evacuate for days, through leaflets, broadcasts, telephone calls… because we didn’t want to see innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas,” a military official told Israel media. “It is Hamas that ordered the civilians to stay put. It is Hamas that wanted those civilians to stay, so it would have a human shield for its terrorist machine.”

Hamas is also pressuring media outlets to showcase the resulting civilian casualties, especially of children, who are brought to a nearby hospital and morgue for easy access.

The civilian casualties caused by Hamas’ blockage of the exits include the “increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza” cited in the White House statement

“What choice do we have?” Netanyahu asked in a July 20 press conference.

“We try to target the rocketeers… And all civilian casualties are not intended by us but actually intended by Hamas who want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can because somebody said they use telegenically dead Palestinians for the cause,” Netanyahu told CNN. “They want ‘the more dead, the better.’”

The Hamas attacks on Israel violate international law because the rockets are too inaccurate to hit military targets. Nearly all of the attacks have been blocked by Israel’s forces and its Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Since 2012, when Egypt’s Islamist government failed to protect the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Obama has reduced his involvement in Middle East politics. However, he’s still trying to broker a peace deal between the the Jews in Israel and the Middle East Arabs, almost none of whom favor the existence of Israel.

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