"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
1:50 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Let’s start with Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: As you are aware no doubt, the Israeli Air Force is conducting operations over in Gaza right now, and I’m wondering what you make of that. Also, the rockets have been – are being fired into southern Israel. Tel Aviv was – there were air raid sirens in Tel Aviv. What’s your take on the situation? Do you believe that this is the kind of restraint that you’ve been calling for from both sides for the past week or so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. We appreciate – we’re concerned, of course, about the safety and security of civilians, as you mentioned. I know there’s been a range of reported attacks that have gone directly on both sides, the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes, the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s action.
The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu Friday and again on Sunday. He’s been in regular contact. Let me just make sure he hasn’t had a call today as well. Not today, but he’s been in close contact and he’s reiterated our concern, as our teams have on the ground, to both sides about the need to de-escalate the tensions on the ground. We’ve also – he’s also been in touch with leaders in the region about our concerns about what’s happening on the ground.
So in terms of what’s happening specifically today, our hope is certainly that by sending a strong message that Israel will be able to deter some of the attacks that have been happening that have been coming at them from Gaza. And again, I would just reiterate our view that they have the right to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this is – that the Israeli actions are “sending a strong message”? That’s what you were referring to?
MS. PSAKI: Sending – well, I’m referring to --
QUESTION: The air strikes --
MS. PSAKI: -- the calls this morning. I’m not referring to specific air strikes. But I would reiterate just that they’re defending themself. They have rocket attacks coming into their own country.
QUESTION: Right. I just – well, I don’t have an ulterior motive here.
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead. Keep going.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to figure out when you say that you think that Israel is sending a strong message – by sending a strong message Israel will be able to deter future rocket attacks from Gaza, is what the Israelis are doing now, do you consider that to be sending a strong message, or is it something else?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not referring to specific action. I’m referring to their statements that they are prepared – they’re preparing themselves to respond to the attacks. Certainly, our preference, which is what the Secretary and others have been conveying to both sides, is to de-escalate the tensions, to bring an end to the violence. But we certainly believe they have the right to defend themselves as well.
QUESTION: They’ve – the government has authorized to call up 40,000 troops, which would appear to be paving the way for a potential ground operation. Is that something that you would oppose, something that you would think is fully within Israel’s right to do? What’s your – what are your thoughts about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to get ahead of where we are. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are now. I would remind you that just this past weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu called for acting responsibly, called for all sides acting responsibly. We’re continuing to convey the need to de-escalate to both sides. Again, it is not a surprise that they are taking steps to prepare themself, but certainly, our preference is to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Do you believe that all sides are acting responsibly at the moment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think certainly, we’ve been calling for de-escalation because, obviously, the rocket attacks coming into Gaza, the recent violence on the ground --
QUESTION: So that’s no?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian side, they are not – or on the Hamas side, they are not acting responsibly, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not – we think all sides should act responsibly, all sides should take steps to de-escalate. But again, it’s important to note where the rocket attacks are coming from. But obviously, there are a lot of circumstances on the ground now, as you know.
QUESTION: I understand that. I’m just trying to get at – I’m trying to find out what the Administration’s position is on whether the sides are acting responsibly, whether they are showing the kind of restraint that you think is necessary to de-escalate the situation, or not. And it’s very possible that one side is and the other side isn’t, or that that’s your opinion, but I’m just trying to find out if – what is the – what does the Administration believe? Is its – are its calls for restraint being heeded by one side, both sides, or either side?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of specificity, Matt, other than to say that we’re conveying through diplomatic channels the importance to both sides of acting responsibly and with restraint.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one is you said that the Secretary had been – in addition to calling Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday and Sunday – was it Friday --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, correct, Friday and Sunday.
QUESTION: -- that he had also been in touch with leaders in the region to pass along the same message, I guess.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you be more specific about who in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I’m specifically – let me see if there are more specific calls to read out for you. What I’m referring to is any leader in the region, any countries in the region that can send a strong message to Hamas as well.
QUESTION: But that would be – so, like the Egyptians, the Saudis, the – who, Turks? The --
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. Those are all applicable. I don’t have any more specifics to read out for you, though, on that.
QUESTION: Well, what about the – what about Palestinian President Abbas sending a strong message to Hamas? I mean, you are recognizing his government, of which Hamas is a part. I mean, doesn’t he bear some responsibility for reining in Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t recognize governments. Hamas is not a part of the technocratic government. We certainly expect --
QUESTION: It’s a unity government of which Hamas is --
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. We certainly expect President Abbas to do everything in his power to prevent rocket attacks and to condemn violence, and he has made a range of those calls. But we’re conveying the same message to him as well about the need to exercise restraint and de-escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: But do you think that he bears some responsibility here? I mean, I just – it’s like at one point, yes, it was a conflict between just the U.S. and Hamas, and Abbas had no real kind of skin in the game because it was between these two parties, even though it was affecting the Palestinian people directly. But now, he’s part of a unity government and has some influence with Hamas now, wouldn’t you say?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have no evidence that Hamas plays any role in the interim technocratic government. And as far as we know, there have also been no steps taken for the implementation of the reconciliation. And obviously, as I mentioned yesterday, given the situation on the ground, it’s difficult to see how the reconciliation process can move forward in the current atmosphere.
I think, yes, we want President Abbas to do everything in his power to prevent rocket attacks and to condemn violence. But I would remind you, as you know, Hamas control – continues to control Gaza. The Palestinian Authority security forces only operate in the West Bank and don’t operate in Gaza. So there are certainly limitations to what is possible, though we want him to do everything in his power to prevent and condemn these type of attacks.
QUESTION: Remaining on the message theme, so you think that all Israel is doing is sending a strong deterrent message and that’s all there is, and that remains within the accepted proportion or whatever, proportionality?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s what I stated, Said. There is obviously a range of circumstances on the ground right now, as you all know. There are the unfortunate recent deaths of the three teenagers. There are – there is the kidnapping and then the beating of the other teenager.
MS. PSAKI: There is violence and back-and-forth. I don’t have to repeat for you. You know exactly what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: I know. I understand and you don’t have to repeat for me. But you feel that sort of the Israeli air raids, like maybe hundreds of them so far this day, are proportionate to the rockets?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not – I wouldn’t validate the accuracy of that number, but I would say, Said --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the sorties – there are hundreds of sorties.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, Said, that I don’t think any country would be expected to allow rockets to come in and threaten the lives and health and well-being of the citizens in their country, and Israel has the right to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that the Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves?
MS. PSAKI: I think – I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Said.
QUESTION: I am asking you: Do they have the right to defend themselves against Israeli aggression?
MS. PSAKI: What are you specifically referring to? Is there a specific event or a specific occurrence?
QUESTION: Do they have the right to respond to Israeli rocketing and bombing their homes, their houses, their areas, their schools?
MS. PSAKI: We’re talking about attacks from a terrorist organization, Said. I don’t think you’re --
QUESTION: No, but there is also a population --
MS. PSAKI: -- we’re having a conversation about what’s happening here.
QUESTION: I mean, you agree that there is a civilian population in Gaza that is also subject to --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and the threat, as I mentioned earlier, to civilian populations is of great concern to us. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re so focused on encouraging all sides to de-escalate.
QUESTION: Are you calling on someone like Egypt to intervene, perhaps, that can bring about some sort of quiet?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve, again, been in touch with countries from the region. I’m not going to get into any greater level of specificity.
QUESTION: Have you gotten a response from the Egyptians that they are willing to intervene or perhaps broker --
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let countries speak for themselves.
QUESTION: -- I just wanted to go back to the Gaza issue for a minute.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.
QUESTION: Because the Israelis said this will take – it will take days, not hours. So this may go on for a long time. Is that okay with you? I mean, is Israel within its right to conduct this operation for as many days as it deems appropriate or necessary?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m happy to indulge you, as always, but I’m not going to speculate. Obviously, our focus is on communicating the need to de-escalate the situation on the ground, but I would reiterate that we believe Israel has every right to defend itself. And certainly, no country would – should be expected to stand by while rockets are impacting and threatening their citizens.
QUESTION: In light of calling 40,000 reservists to duty, are you concerned that there may be a ground invasion in Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve already addressed and exhausted this topic.