U.S.'s Kerry defends Israeli effort to stem rocket, tunnel attacks

by Reuters
Sunday, 20 July 2014 14:11 GMT

(Adds background on Israeli land incursion)

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - The United States believes Israel has a right to defend itself from rockets fired from Gaza and from attacks launched out of cross-border tunnels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday.

"You have a right to go in and take out those tunnels," Kerry told Fox News. "We completely support that. And we support Israel's right to defend itself against rockets that are continuing to come in."

Israel, which has accused Palestinian militant group Hamas of using civilians as human shields by launching rockets from residential areas, sent ground forces into the Gaza Strip on Thursday after 10 days of air, naval and artillery barrages failed to stop the salvoes.

At least 62 Palestinians were killed on Sunday in Israeli shelling of one Gaza neighborhood.

As part of the incursion, Israeli bulldozers destroyed tunnels that fighters have used to slip into Israel from Gaza.

This month's offensive has so far failed to subdue Hamas and its allies, who fired more than 90 rockets into Israel on Saturday, the Israeli army said.

Kerry called on Hamas to consider a ceasefire. "It is important for Hamas to now step up and be reasonable and understand that (if) you accept the ceasefire, you save lives," he said.

In a separate interview on CNN, Kerry said President Barack Obama will ask him to go to the Middle East soon to aid in efforts to secure a ceasefire.

Obama said on Friday he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the situation in Gaza, underscoring U.S. support for Israel to defend itself but raising concerns about the consequences of wider conflict. (Reporting by Jason Lange and Jim Loney in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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