US slams rocket fire at Israeli civilians, urges sides to ‘act responsibly’

State Department reiterates Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ but calls again for de-escalation

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Rockets fired out of Gaza into Israel Tuesday night. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/ Flash90)
Rockets fired out of Gaza into Israel Tuesday night. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

WASHINGTON – As barrages of rockets rained down across central and southern Israel, the US State Department called on both sides to “act responsibly” while condemning the “deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza.”

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a Tuesday press briefing. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department “teams on the ground”, she said, have reiterated to members of “both sides… the need to de-escalate tensions on the ground.” Psaki cited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls over the weekend to people on the street to act responsibly.

The State Department has, however, repeatedly stated in recent weeks that it does not hold Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas directly responsible for terrorist rocket fire that originates in the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, Psaki reiterated that Abbas faces “limitations” in Gaza, given that Hamas is in control of the coastal territory. A day earlier, she had told reporters that “we don’t believe that Hamas plays a role” in the current Palestinian unity government. The technocratic government was formed this spring when Fatah and Hamas agreed on a cabinet that would have the support of, but not include members of, Hamas.

At the same time, however, Psaki offered the most dubious assessment of the future of the Palestinian unity government offered by the administration, which has stood by its wait-and-see approach in the face of escalating tensions.

“It is difficult to see how other aspects of the reconciliation process can move forward in this current atmosphere, and we’ve conveyed that as well,” Psaki said on Monday.

When the technocratic government was formed, a number of members of Congress – and Israeli politicians – said that the US should suspend its funding for the PA pursuant to a 2006 law that forbids funding Hamas unless it fully renounces violence. The administration, however, has repeatedly said that it will not do so, but will keep a careful eye on whether the technocratic government itself abides by the principles set out by the Quartet – recognition of the state of Israel, respecting all previous diplomatic agreements, and renouncing violence as a means of achieving goals.

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