"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
1:10 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- fighting? Is it the position of the Government of the United States that Israel is conducting itself in this bombardment, the ongoing bombardment of Gaza, within the constraints and rules of international law for its self-defense?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first, Said, just so I don’t forget to do this, just update you all that the Secretary spoke with President Abbas this morning. I know I mentioned to all of you that he had planned to do that. He, as you know, had already spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu just yesterday. During both of those calls, the Secretary reiterated our concern over the escalating tensions and restated his own willingness and the willingness of the United States to engage robustly in helping to stop the rocket fire so we can restore calm as soon as possible.
And Said, to answer your question, that is really what our focus is on, is using all tools at our disposal to bring an end to the rocket fire that is threatening the innocent lives of civilians in Israel and that is certainly posing a threat in the region.
QUESTION: So his effort would be focused on stopping the rocket fire from Gaza, but not to stop Israeli bombardment of Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note here that no country should have to live under the constant threat of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians. That’s what we’re looking at here. I think it’s important context here that Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have been launching indiscriminate number of attacks against Israel. Israel, we – of course, as I had mentioned yesterday, but it’s worth repeating, we are – it’s clear that civilians have been killed, that – including children. This is deeply tragic and we have been continuing to call on both sides to take steps to protect civilians. I would note that while the Israelis have taken steps to try to prevent civilian casualties by warning – providing warning in advance, that is not what, of course, Hamas is doing, and they have continued their indiscriminate attacks against – including civilian areas in Israel.
QUESTION: So you consider that Israel dropping leaflets of calling – or calling people on the phone and so on to terrify them, basically, to leave their home is a great humanitarian gesture?
MS. PSAKI: I think warning that there may be a response attack to the indiscriminate attacks of Hamas, a terrorist organization, is different and certainly important to point out in comparison with the attacks that are coming into parts of Israel, yes.
QUESTION: So do you believe that the utility of an F-16 to bomb a home and kill five civilians was appropriately done in accordance with the laws governing the transfer of weapons to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, first – and let me just repeat, because it’s important to note here, that it’s clear that civilians have been killed, and certainly that’s of concern to us, and that’s one of the reasons that we have been certainly calling for all sides to de-escalate tensions on the ground. It’s tragic and our condolences go out to the families, but I would remind you who is at fault here, and that is Hamas and the indiscriminate attacks that they have launched against Israel.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the Secretary General of the United Nations who just called for an immediate ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: I think our focus, Said, is the – is on using all tools at our disposal to stop rocket fire so that we can restore calm, and that’s what we feel that the immediate focus should be on.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are not calling for a ceasefire; you’re calling for the rockets to stop from being launched from Gaza, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that would contribute to a reduction in violence.
MS. PSAKI: And let’s just keep going. Go ahead.
QUESTION: That’s not – let me just – excuse me. Let me just --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go one at a time. Go ahead next.
QUESTION: -- follow up with that.
MS. PSAKI: So go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. I want to follow up. So does that also call for the Israelis to stop their immediate – to stop their bombardment of Gaza, or no?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, again, as I’ve stated several times in here from the briefing room in response to your questions, there’s a difference between Hamas, a terrorist organization that’s indiscriminately attacking innocent civilians in areas where there are innocent civilians in Israel, and the right of Israel to respond and protect their own civilians. And that’s what we’re seeing on the ground take place.
QUESTION: Are you keeping count of the innocent civilians on both sides that have been lost in this latest (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: The death of any innocent civilian is a tragedy, and our hearts and prayers go out to those families. And certainly a reduction of civilian casualties preventing that, ending that, is in everyone’s interests.
QUESTION: You said --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the same topic, in the same topic, given the complexity of the situation between Israel and Gaza, do you think Egypt could play a role, a mediation role to ease the tension? And as you may know, in the past, Washington reached out to Qatar and –
QUESTION: -- Egypt to help the Israelis and the Palestinian ease the tensions between them. Do you think now Egypt can play a role? Would the State Department ask Egypt – the Egyptian Government to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of the Secretary’s effort has been reaching out to countries in the region, including Qatar, including Egypt. I would note, as you know, historically there’s a difference between the relationship between the prior government to Hamas and the current government to Hamas. So I will leave that to others to analyze on how we can influence and who is most influential.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Egyptian military has been always in good relationship with Hamas. So why not now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, any country in the region that can play a role in bringing an end to the rocket fire from Hamas we’re certainly going to be engaged with. But I think it’s important to note the difference between the governments and their relationship with Hamas. And I leave it to others to analyze whether they’ll be able to influence them.
QUESTION: What specifically was the Secretary meaning by his willingness to engage? What is the Administration prepared to do to help stop the rocket fire and to perhaps persuade the Israelis not to launch any sort of ground offensive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s clearly engaging with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as evidenced by his calls, but he’s also referring to discussions with other countries in the region. And again, I would note that the goals we’re looking at here – and the Secretary mentioned this earlier today, so you can certainly quote him, but our focus right now is on saving innocent lives, trying to de-escalate in a way that accomplishes that while allowing Israel to exercise its right of self-defense and protecting as many civilians and, of course, those in the region as best as we can. But engaging with the parties as well as having discussions with countries in the region is something we’re already doing, and the Secretary is – was reiterating his commitment to continuing that level of engagement.
QUESTION: What kind of – what did he tell President Abbas specifically? Did he give him advice on how to engage, given that Abbas technically does not have any legal authority over Gaza? I mean, what can he do and what did – what does this Administration believe that Abbas can do given the complex legal situation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go into greater detail on their discussion, but clearly the discussions that the Secretary is having with any leader in the region is about how we can de-escalate and we are open to discussing and using all avenues to do that. So certainly the Secretary discusses the conversations that he has having with other leaders in the region, as well as what steps can be taken to bring an end to the rocket fire from Gaza.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish this and then we can go to you, Elliot, if that works.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up very quickly --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- because I don’t understand. You keep saying, “We want to put an end to the rocket firing.” Are you calling for a simultaneous ceasefire that should take place from both sides at the same time? Or do you just want the Palestinians to stop firing their rockets?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear.
QUESTION: It’s very simple.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not accurate to say it’s quote/unquote “the Palestinians.” This is Hamas, a terrorist organization that is launching --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish – that is launching these rockets. Obviously, if the rockets are – if the rocket fire is brought to an end, I don’t think anybody’s preference, including the Israelis, is an escalation of this. Nobody wants to see a ground invasion. That’s why it’s so important for Hamas to stop the rocket fire against Israeli citizens immediately. That step will reduce tension, will de-escalate, and that’s why we’re having discussions with a range of leaders in the region.
QUESTION: Is the United States counseling against a ground invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Israelis themselves have said that that is not – that they don’t want to see a ground invasion. Nobody wants to see that. And so de-escalating and taking steps to de-escalate is certainly what our focus is on.
QUESTION: Nonetheless they are amassing troops around Gaza and getting ready for a land invasion.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, as I’ve mentioned, because of the indiscriminate attacks from Hamas and the rocket fire that’s coming in, Israel is exercising its right to self-defense. I think it’s in everyone’s interest to de-escalate the situation, to prevent a ground invasion or a ground component of this, and to save the lives of innocent civilians. And those are the – that’s our focus at this important point in time.
QUESTION: What can Abbas then do to influence Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re having that discussion with him, and he’s the expert on that and what he has the ability to do and not do. But certainly he’s an important player in this, and that’s one of the reasons the Secretary spoke with him.
QUESTION: Is the – has the Secretary or is it the Administration urging the Israelis against a ground offensive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re – we’re having a discussion with them on how to de-escalate. And clearly, our focus remains on steps that we can take, steps that other countries can take to influence Hamas and bring an end to the rocket fire, and that’s really what we’re counseling at this point in time.
QUESTION: And can you say what discussions the U.S. has had with Egypt in particular about trying to de-escalate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has been in touch with the foreign minister, and certainly any country and any leader who can play a role in influencing Hamas and bringing an end to the rocket fire we’ll remain engaged with.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary phone the Egyptian foreign minister?
MS. PSAKI: He was in touch with him over the last couple of days, yes.