US Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel “has every right in the world to defend itself” against attacks by Hamas in Gaza, but the US is working diligently to get an immediate ceasefire in place.
Kerry said Israel has long endured rocket attacks by Hamas, and no nation “would sit there while rockets are bombarding it.” He said “thousands of rockets” were being fired at Israel. “People can’t live that way.”
Kerry also cited tunnels constructed by Hamas in what he said is “an obvious effort” to try to kidnap Israelis.
Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it is “unacceptable by any standard anywhere in the world” and that Israel must protect its citizens.
In response to a question on ABC’s “This Week,” Kerry dismissed claims that Israel was committing genocide as “rhetoric that we’ve heard many, many times.”
Kerry turned his answer into an excoriation of Hamas and continued, “What they need to do is stop rocketing Israel and accept a ceasefire. It’s very, very clear that they’ve tunneled under Israel. They’ve tried to come out of those tunnels with people with handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs to capture Israeli citizens and hold them for ransom, or worse. They’ve been rocketing Israel with thousands of rockets.
“They’ve been offered a ceasefire, and they’ve refused to take the ceasefire. Even though Egypt and others have called for that ceasefire, they’ve just stubbornly invited further efforts to try to defuse the ability to be able to rocket Israel.”
Kerry, a combat veteran, said that the situation in Gaza was “ugly, obviously,” acknowledging that “war is ugly, and bad things are going to happen,” but added that “they” — not specifying whether he meant Hamas or the Palestinian Authority as a whole — “need to recognize their own responsibility.
“We have offered to have a ceasefire and then negotiate the issues. We’ve obviously shown our bona fides in the United States, and the president has put his presidency behind the effort to try to find peace in the region,” he continued. “So they need to join up and be responsible and accept a unilateral — not a unilateral, but a multilateral ceasefire without conditions, and then we pledge to discuss all the underlying issues, which we’ve been trying to do for the last year-and-a-half.”
Kerry placed responsibility for the escalation on Hamas, arguing that “when three young Israeli kids are taken and murdered, and Hamas applauds it and celebrates the fact that they were kidnapped and supported the kidnapping, and then starts rocketing Israel when they’re looking for the people who did it, that’s out of balance by any standard, George. And I think it’s important for people to remember the facts that led to this. Hamas needs to join up, be part of a solution, not the problem.”
Kerry also said he believes that President Barack Obama will want him to return to the Mideast shortly to see if a ceasefire can be put in place.
Israel’s cabinet was set to meet late Sunday to discuss the ongoing ground offensive against Hamas, with no likelihood of a ceasefire seen in the immediate future.
In interviews with US media on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had to stop the rockets and the Hamas tunnels. He said Israel needs “a sustainable ceasefire” and to work for a demilitarized Gaza. Speaking to CNN, Netanyahu said of Hamas: “They want to pile up as many dead civilians as they can… The more dead, the better.”
Netanyahu and Kerry were speaking after Israeli strikes on Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood killed 60 people, Palestinian medical officials in the Gaza Strip reported.
Israeli officials said Shejaiya is a Hamas stronghold, and that 150 rockets had been launched from that area in the past two weeks, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Israeli military officials said Sunday that they had told civilians to leave the Shejaiya area days ago, ahead of the IDF military action.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.