BANGKOK, Thailand - President Obama today fully backed Israel's right to defend itself and warned that the escalating violence in the Middle East threatens the prospect for a lasting peace process.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Obama called for an end to the firing of missiles into Israel by militants inside Gaza, saying "there is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."
The president cautioned that any ground offensive could lead to greater Israeli casualties.
"Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory," he said. "If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that's preferable. That's not just preferable for the people in Gaza, it's also preferable for the Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded."
Obama reiterated America's unwavering support for Israel. "We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself," he said.
The president, who has been in contact with leaders in the region to try and de-escalate the violence, 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 into Israel's territory and that then gives us the space to try and deal with these long-standing conflicts that exist."
"We're going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours, but what I've said to [Egyptian] President Morsi and [Turkish] Prime Minister Erdogan is that those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza than the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future," he said.