Obama praises Netanyahu on Gaza cease-fire

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for agreeing to an Egypt-crafted cease-fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza. Obama, speaking to Netanyahu by telephone, also underlined America's unwavering support for Israel's security and said he hoped to "intensify" U.S. assistance.

"The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal—which the president recommended the prime minister do—while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself," the White House said in a summary of the conversation.

Obama "expressed his appreciation for the prime minister's efforts to work with the new Egyptian government to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and a more durable solution to this problem," the White House said. Netanyahu initiated the call, according to an Obama aide.

The president's press office released the statement to reporters moments into a joint press conference in Cairo where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced the cease-fire.

The emphasis on Egypt's role has been a cornerstone of the American effort ever since Israel answered persistent rocket fire by Gaza's Hamas rulers with punishing airstrikes in a steadily escalating conflict. The country shares a border with Gaza, and President Mohammed Morsi is seen in Washington as someone able to influence the militant Islamist organization's decision-making.

Obama also highlighted American backing of Israel. "The president made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians," the White House said.

"The president said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a cease-fire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza," it said.

"The president said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs," the White House said.