(Updates with quotes from White House spokesman)
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, July 21 The White House put pressure
on Israel on Monday to take greater steps to protect Palestinian
civilians from being killed in an Israeli offensive in the Gaza
President Barack Obama, who repeated his position that
Israel had the right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel
attacks from Hamas militants, expressed serious concern over the
number of casualties on both sides.
The Palestinian death toll rose above 500 on Monday while
Hamas, which killed 13 Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Sunday in the
biggest one-day toll in eight years, continued to fire rockets
deep into Israel.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Israel could do more
to follow its own criteria for protecting innocent people.
"Israel must take greater steps to meet its own standards
for protecting civilians from being killed, and we'll continue
to ... send that message directly to the Israelis," Earnest told
Earnest made clear that the United States believed Israel
faced a significant threat from Hamas. It was "unacceptable" for
Hamas to continue firing rockets at Israeli civilians, he said.
Obama, in separate comments to the media, said Israel had
made significant dents in the militant group's tunnels.
"As I've said many times, Israel has a right to defend
itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas. And as a
result of its operations, Israel has already done significant
damage to Hamas's terrorist infrastructure in Gaza," Obama told
reporters at the White House.
"I've also said, however, that we have serious concerns
about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the
loss of Israeli lives, and that is why it now has to be our
focus and the focus of the international community to bring
about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and that can stop the
deaths of innocent civilians," he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Egypt in an
effort to help broker a ceasefire, appeared to show his own
frustration with Israel's operation in Gaza during a
conversation caught on an open microphone before an interview on
"Fox News Sunday."
"It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Kerry was overheard
saying sarcastically, referring to the Israeli offensive.
(additional reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton;
Editing by David Storey and Gunna Dickson)