WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Friday condemned "outrageous" violations of an internationally brokered Gaza cease-fire by Palestinian militants and called the apparent abduction of an Israeli soldier a "barbaric" action.
The strong reaction from Washington came as Israeli officials questioned the effort to forge the truce, accusing the U.S. and the United Nations of being naive in assuming the radical Hamas movement would adhere with its terms. The officials also blamed the Gulf state of Qatar for not forcing the militants to comply.
With the cease-fire in tatters fewer than two hours after it took effect with the attack that killed two Israeli troops and left a third missing, President Barack Obama demanded that those responsible release the soldier immediately.
Obama and other U.S. officials did not directly blame Hamas for the abduction. But they made clear they hold Hamas responsible for, or having influence over, the actions of all factions in the Gaza Strip. The language was a distinct change from Thursday when Washington was focused on the deaths of Palestinian civilians.
"If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible," Obama told reporters. He added that it would be difficult to revive the cease-fire without his release.
"It's going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment," he said. His comment reflected uncertainty in the U.S. and elsewhere that Hamas was actually responsible for the incident or if some other militant group was to blame.
At the same time, Obama called the situation in Gaza "heartbreaking" and repeated calls for Israel to do more to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties. "Innocent civilians caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience, and we have to do more," he said.
Despite the collapse of the truce, Obama credited Secretary of State John Kerry for his work with the United Nations to forge one. He lamented criticism and "nitpicking" of Kerry's attempts and said the effort would continue despite the latest setback.
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