President Obama on Friday said he has “unequivocally condemned” Hamas and Palestinian groups for their role in killing two Israeli soldiers after a cease-fire took effect in Gaza that morning.
In comments from the White House briefing room, Obama also called on Hamas to release a third Israeli soldier its forces captured immediately.
“That soldier should be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” he added.
Obama expressed doubt that reviving the cease-fire could be easily done after the attack by Hamas on Friday morning.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community aren’t confident Hamas can follow-through,” he said.
Obama reiterated he has been very clear throughout the conflict that Israel has the right to defend itself. He also said innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the cross-fire “have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening there,” he said.
Obama later added that he hopes anyone who views the images of children and women dying in Gaza, and Israelis whose lives are disrupted by rockets, “recognize the costs.”
The White House criticized Israel on Thursday for shelling a United Nations-run school in Gaza that left about 20 dead a day earlier.
Friday morning about an hour and a half after the cease-fire took effect, Hamas militants attacked Israeli soldiers near a tunnel in Rafah, Gaza, Israeli officials have said.
Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter that 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, was captured. Multiple reports said he is a British-Israeli citizen.
Obama said he gives Secretary of State John Kerry “credit” for his persistence in trying to secure a lull in the fighting, and said Kerry has “endured very unfair criticism” recently. Some Israeli media reports said Israelis accused Kerry of "capitulating" to Hamas in cease-fire negotiations.
Kerry spoke with Netanyahu about the situation Friday morning after reports that the cease-fire had been broken. On the way back to the U.S. from India, Kerry also spoke to Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, urging them to use their influence to secure the soldier’s released, The New York Times reported.
The soldier’s capture is reminiscent of the 2006 abduction of then-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas held captive for more than five years. He was eventually swapped for a group of Palestinian prisoners in 2011.
As of Friday, about 1,500 Palestinians have died in the conflict that erupted earlier this month, and more than 60 Israeli soldiers have died.