Obama expresses concerns to Netanyahu about civilian Gaza deaths

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 18, 2014 12:50pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Ukraine from the White House in Washington, July 18, 2014. The president's comments Friday come one day after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Ukraine from the White House in Washington, July 18, 2014. The president's comments Friday come one day after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the situation in Gaza, underscoring the U.S. support for Israel to defend itself but raising concerns about consequences of wider conflict.

Obama said he reaffirmed the United States' strong support for its ally but that he "also made clear the United States ... and our allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life."

"We are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties," Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama's remarks come amid escalating violence in the region between Israel and Palestinian militants. On Friday, Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza and warned it could "significantly widen" an operation that Palestinian officials said was increasingly killing civilians.[ID:nL6N0PT00D]

During the phone call, a siren went off warning of a rocket attack from Gaza, both leaders said.

Netanyahu told Obama that "this is the reality for millions of Israeli citizens," according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

Obama also said he told Netanyahu that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also prepared to visit the region.

"All of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012," Obama said.

Netanyahu thanked Obama for U.S. support of Israel's right to defend itself, and the Israeli leader said that the Islamist group Hamas, by using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields, was responsible for any harm to them, the statement from the Israeli leader said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Emily Stephenson in Washington and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)

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