WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama continued his forceful defense of Israel on Wednesday, blaming Hamas for the conflict in Gaza that has left nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis dead.
"I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza," Obama said at a press conference, when asked if he agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that Israel's bombardment of Gaza was both "justified" and "proportionate."
Obama, who has publicly stood by Israel throughout the crisis, reiterated many of the talking points he and his administration have employed since the war began on July 8.
"I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities," he said. "As a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel's right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and, more recently as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks."
The United Nations has estimated that three-quarters of the Palestinians killed in the fighting were civilians, while Israel contends that about 900 of them were militants. The Israeli death toll includes 64 soldiers and three civilians.
Obama was once again reticent to criticize Israel on Wednesday, noting that he has expressed his "distress at what's happened to innocent civilians, including women and children." He said he was glad that a 72-hour ceasefire has offered the people of Gaza a temporary reprieve, as indirect negotiations continue in Egypt.
"The U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the ceasefire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding, and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope and so the people of Israel feel confident that they're not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we've seen over the last several weeks," Obama said.