Yesterday, as Israeli ground troops entered Gaza – a move that marked a major escalation of hostilities after 10 days of aerial bombardment by Israel – United States president Barack Obama staged a press conference at the White House, attended by the world’s media.
It came as the number of dead climbed to 296, including the deaths of four children playing on a beach who were killed by Israeli gunboats off the coast of Gaza.
The deaths of the four boys – and footage of their mangled bodies – sparked international outrage. Following is an edited transcript of what President Obama had to say at his press conference.
“Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken – men, women, children, infants who had nothing to do with the crisis…. Their deaths are a (sic) outrage of unspeakable proportions.
“We know at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.
“This was a global tragedy…. there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened.
“The UN Security Council has endorsed this investigation, and we will hold all its members… to their word.
“Now, the United States stands ready to provide any assistance that is necessary.
“In the coming hours and days, I'll continue to be in close contact with leaders from around the world as we respond to this catastrophe.
“Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened and putting forward the facts. And I want to point out there will likely be misinformation as well.
“I think it's very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is simply speculation.
“No one can deny the truth that is revealed in the awful images that we all have seen… and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.
“More broadly, I think it's important for us to recognize that this outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored…
“For months we've supported a pathway to peace…. put forward a peace plan and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations.
“So now's, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look at what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences.
“… The United States of America is going to continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose, that nations have the right to determine their own destiny, and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.”
Contrary to what you might think, Obama is not commenting on the situation in Gaza. In fact, his press conference was called to respond to international outrage at the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine, an act that killed 298 people, including 28 Australians.
Obama used the press conference to call Russia to heal. Before taking questions, here’s his brief comment on the deaths of nearly 300 Palestinians, at least 70 per cent of whom were civilians.
“Before I take just a couple of questions, let me remark on one other issue,” Obama said.
“This morning I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel about the situation in Gaza. We discussed Israel's military operation in Gaza, including its efforts to stop the threat of terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel.
“I reaffirmed my strong support for Israel's right to defend itself. No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders or terrorists tunneling into its territory. In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv.
“I also made clear that the United States and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.
“And that's why we've indicated although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels.
“And we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012.”
In the latest conflict, to date one Israeli civilian and one Israeli soldier have been killed.
For the last 13 years, on average one Palestinian child has been killed by Israel every three days.
And since January 2009, 568 Palestinians has been killed by Israeli security forces, according to B'Tselem. Over the same period, 25 Israeli civilians and security force personnel have been killed by Palestinians.
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