Obama on Israel: 'No country on earth' would tolerate rockets

The Iron Dome (Photo: AP)

The Iron Dome (Photo: AP)

President Obama has called for terrorists operating in Gaza to stop firing missiles across the border into Israel after five days of fighting in the region.

Terrorist groups have stepped up the intensity of rocket fire over the weekend, after a rocket reached the Jerusalem area for the first time on Friday. Around 300 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system, but since Wednesday 544 have hit Israeli land, including densely populated areas and the country’s financial centre, Tel Aviv.

In one attack, a rocket fell at the site of a nursery school in Ashkelon, but the building was closed because of the threat of rocket fire. Another rocket hit a car in the town of Ofakim, while three people were injured in a strike on Ashkelon.

The death toll from the IDF airstrikes has risen to up to 67, Palestinian officials said, with at least 11 people including children reportedly killed on Sunday following an air strike on Gaza City targeting a key player in Islamic Jihad.

According to the IDF, on Sunday strikes targeted more than 50 terror sites in Gaza, among them underground rocket launching sites and terror tunnels. The IDF said this would inflict “severe damage to the rocket launching capabilities of terror organisations operating in the Gaza Strip”.

Israeli officials are understood to be in Cairo to discuss terms of a cease-fire deal. There are "serious attempts to reach a cease-fire”, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.

President Obama today stressed that “no country on earth... would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders” and offered the United States’ full support of “Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes".

His comments, made during a tour of South East Asia, came after an Israeli strike on Hamas’ communication headquarters left several journalists injured. The IDF spokesperson urged reporters, “just like any person in Gaza” to stay away from Hamas positions and operatives.

President Obama drew attention to what had caused the current crisis, emphasising that Israel had taken action in response to “an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated”.

Warning that an escalation of the situation in Gaza would make getting back on any sort of peace track unlikely, he said: “If we're serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired in Israel's territory and that then gives us the space to try to deal with these longstanding conflicts that exist."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that soldiers were prepared for any activity and that he was ready to expand airstrikes if necessary.

On Sunday morning, two crossings from Israel into Gaza were opened for the passage of diplomatic personnel and medical supplies. The IDF said that it had co-ordinated the transfer of 124 trucks of goods and petrol into Gaza.

Last updated: 5:56pm, November 18 2012