WASHINGTON (JTA) — US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed “de-escalation” of the Gaza conflict in a phone conversation on Friday.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu called the President today to provide an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza,” said a White House statement. “The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the president and the American people for the United States’ investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives.”
The statement continued: “The president reiterated US support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”
The reference to de-escalation came the same day that Netanyahu appeared ready to expand the operation into a ground war, as Palestinian rockets for the first time reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
“With respect to the ongoing operation the prime minister said that the IDF is continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office Friday, recounting his meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres.
In a separate statement, the White House said Obama had spoken to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and also discussed de-escalation.
“The president commended Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation and expressed his hope that these efforts would be successful,” the statement said. “The president expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and underscored the importance of resolving the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent further loss of life.”
Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is close to Hamas, has condemned the Israeli strikes and has called for a cease-fire.
Israel’s Cabinet on Friday approved a call-up of 75,000 reservists.
The operation, launched Wednesday by Israel after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza, has claimed some 30 Palestinian lives, including a number of children; a top commander of the Hamas terrorist group, killed in the first minutes of attacks; and an alleged informant killed by Hamas.
A rocket killed three Israeli civilians in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.
About 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered Friday night outside the White House, where they chanted slogans denouncing Netanyahu and the Israeli army. Many carried signs that said, “Let Gaza Live” and called for an end to US aid to Israel.
Nadrat Siddique of Annapolis, Maryland, said she joined the protest in solidarity with fellow Muslims who have been killed in Gaza. “We feel like an attack on Palestinians is an attack on all Muslims,” said Siddique, who was born in Pakistan. She and other protesters said Israel would not conduct air strikes without US support and called on Obama to end “bloodthirsty attacks” by Israel.
The protest was organized by the ANSWER Coalition, a left-leaning group that has worked with Palestinian activists.