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Obama: U.S. willing to broker Gaza ceasefire

Obama told Netanyahu in a phone call that Washington remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities

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As Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned of an imminent invasion by Israeli ground forces, President Barack Obama told Israel’s premier that the United States is willing to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House said Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Thursday.

The 2012 deal, brokered by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Egypt, ended eight days of Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in a previous showdown.

As Israel was intensifying bombardment of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to thwart rocket fire targeting Israel, more than 85 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians, and over 300 wounded since the offensive began Tuesday, the Associated Press cited Palestinian medical officials as saying.

“The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm,” Agence France-Presse quoted the White House as saying in a statement.

Israel hit more than 900 targets so far in Gaza.

Obama also told Netanyahu that he understood Israel had a right to defend itself and that he condemned rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups launched from Gaza.

Obama expressed sympathy for the deaths of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank that triggered new tensions between the Jewish state and Palestinians and praised Israel for swiftly making arrests in the case of a Palestinian youth apparently killed in reprisal for the incident.

Obama also expressed concern over the case of a Palestinian-American teenager allegedly beaten in police custody.

The two leaders also discussed the effort to conclude a deal on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program by an approaching July 20 deadline. Netanyahu has previously expressed deep skepticism of the US approach toward Iran.

(With Associated Press and AFP)