Obama backs Mideast truce efforts to ease Gaza isolation

President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egyptian efforts to broker a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza but also called for a longer-term solution that provides for Israeli security while offering Gaza residents hope they will not remain “permanently closed off from the world.

” Obama said the short-term US goal is to make sure that a 72-hour truce holds and is extended beyond its Friday deadline, including the cessation of cross-border rocket fire by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. While condemning Hamas as “extraordinarily irresponsible” for launching rockets from population centers, Obama urged an eventual “formula” to ease the hardships of ordinary Palestinians who have suffered during the latest conflict.

Israel maintains a blockade around the impoverished enclave. “Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity – jobs, economic growth – for the population that lives there,” Obama said at the end of a summit hosting African leaders in Washington.

The Gaza truce held through its second day on Wednesday , and Israel said it was ready to extend the deal as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israelis and Palestinians on an enduring end to a war that devastated the enclave. “We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt,” Obama said.

“The question then becomes: can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks … but at the same time ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off?” he said. Obama repeated his support for US ally Israel’s “right to defend itself” but also reiterated his “distress” at the loss of civilian life in Gaza.