President Barack Obama called for Israelis and Palestinians alike to restrain themselves and put an end to acts of retribution, in some of his first public comments on the matter since the murder of three Israeli teenagers touched off a new round of violence and deepening mistrust.
In an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Obama called it a "dangerous moment" for the region where a vaunted U.S. peace effort recently collapsed. Writing in emotional terms, he said he couldn't imagine the pain suffered by the parents of the three Israeli teens, but was also heartbroken by the senseless murder of a Palestinian teenager who many suspect was killed as payback.
"All parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution," Obama said.
Obama's comments, published in Hebrew, Arabic and English, reflected growing U.S. concern about tit-for-tat violence spiraling out of control as the fragile situation in Israel appears to deteriorate.
After dozens of rockets rained on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel's military on Tuesday launched an offensive operation including airstrikes that Palestinians said injured at least nine. Israel authorized the mobilization of some 1,500 military reservists in an escalation that evoked uneasy memories of Israel's other incursions into the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.
After the bodies of the three Israelis were discovered, Obama issued a brief written statement, but hasn't spoken about the situation publicly. Haaretz said the op-ed published late Monday was intended for the newspaper's upcoming peace summit. The White House said the op-ed was written before June 30 - the day the three Israeli teens were found dead - but later updated to reflect more recent events.
Obama didn't mention Tariq Abu Khdeir, the cousin of the murdered Palestinian, who was arrested after clashing with Israeli forces. The State Department has said it's "deeply troubled" by reports that Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian-American, was badly beaten.
Obama also offered strong praise for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is under pressure as Israel seeks to use the murder of the three Israelis to discredit his newly formed unity government with Hamas.
"In President Abbas, Israel has a counterpart committed to a two-state solution and security cooperation with Israel," Obama said. He offered no parallel praise for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama said the U.S. was disappointed that American-backed peace talks fell apart, but said the U.S. won't give up on peace.
"When the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations, the United States will be there, ready to do our part," Obama said.