WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Wednesday and reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza, the White House said.
Obama spoke to the leaders about the rocket attacks being launched from Gaza into Israel and the escalating violence in Gaza, the White House said in a statement.
“The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate,” the statement said.
“The president also spoke with President Mursi given Egypt’s central role in preserving regional security. In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense,” it said.
Obama and Mursi agreed on the importance of “working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible” and would stay in close touch in the days ahead, the White House said.
Egypt, only one of two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, has played a role in recent years brokering a suspension of hostilities between Israel and Hamas militants who rule in the Gaza Strip.
Mursi, Egypt’s new Islamist president, has been under pressure from Washington to safeguard Egypt’s peace deal with the Jewish state. Egypt maintains contacts with Hamas’ leadership in Gaza and has diplomatic relations with Israel.
Egypt’s military receives heavy U.S. financial aid, and Cairo is looking to Washington for development assistance and debt forgiveness to help its ailing economy.
Israeli President Shimon Peres briefed Obama on Wednesday about Israel’s killing of the Hamas military commander in Gaza.
The U.N. Security Council was holding an emergency meeting late on Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip.
Reporting by Jeff Mason, Mark Felsenthal, and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Christopher Wilson