WASHINGTON — In an unusually strong statement, US President Barack Obama called for Hamas to unconditionally release Lt. Hadar Goldin, seized by Hamas during a truce in Gaza early Friday.
“If they are serious about resolving the situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” Obama told reporters during a quickly scheduled press conference Friday afternoon.
“A ceasefire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and try to resolve some of the underlying issues,” Obama said. “Trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.”
He placed the blame for any continuing difficulties on the ceasefire squarely on Hamas. “I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israel and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment,” he said.
Obama emphasized that he “unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a ceasefire has been announced.” In the Friday morning attack, that was launched 90 minutes after a US- and United Nations-backed ceasefire went into effect, terrorists killed two soldiers, and kidnapped Goldin.
“No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities,” Obama continued, adding that “no country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land.”
In what was otherwise a strong statement of support for Israel, Obama added that the suffering of Gazan civilians “have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening there,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned against a further escalation of the conflict in Gaza, while calling on “those who have influence” over Hamas to persuade the terror group to release Goldin.
Describing the Friday morning attack as an “outrageous violation of the ceasefire,” Kerry called on Hamas to immediately release the captive soldier.
Kerry condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms,” calling it “an outrageous violation of the ceasefire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations.”
In a remark related to the role of states like Qatar, a US interlocutor which has been critiqued for its extensive support to Hamas, Kerry called “on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message.”