Answering questions while briefing reporters on President Barack Obama's forthcoming Asia trip, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said "the Israelis have the right to self-defense when their citizens are faced with the threat of indiscriminate rocket fire from within Gaza."
On whether the United States fears Israeli ground forces entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Rhodes said, "Ultimately, it's up to the Israeli government to make determinations about how they're going to carry out their military objectives.
Rhodes said the best course of action would be a general de-escalation of the violence, adding, "The onus is on Hamas and those with influence over Hamas to help bring about that de-escalation so that we don't see a widening conflict."
Tensions in the volatile Middle East rose sharply this week with the death of Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Hamas reportedly responded by firing dozens of rockets into Israel.
Rhodes said the United States wants to see a broader conflict avoided in the region.
"And, again, though, we want to make clear that Israel has the right to self-defense, so it's going to be incumbent on Hamas and those who are in contact with Hamas to encourage them to take those types of de-escalatory steps," he said.
Rhodes said Obama had talked to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and that Vice President Joe Biden also spoke to Netanyahu, and that the administration believes "the continued threat posed by rocket fire from Gaza against the Israeli people is unacceptable." He said the United States has supported Israel with defensive capabilities to deal with rocket fire.
"We've encouraged that, of course, all steps be taken to avoid civilian casualties, and we deeply regret the loss of life on the Israeli and Palestinian side," he said, adding the administration also has urged those who have a degree of influence with Hamas such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners "to urge Hamas to de-escalate."
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