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Nov. 18, 2012 at 1:19 PM   |   Comments

Obama: Gaza jeopardizes peace process

JERUSALEM, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Sunday ongoing violence in Gaza threatened to further complicate the already slow progress toward a lasting peace in the region.

As Israel's "Operation Pillar of Defense" entered its fifth day, Palestinians said more than 62 people had been killed and more than 400 injured in more than 1,000 Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Three Israelis have been killed and dozens injured by rockets fired at southern Israel.

Speaking at a news conference in Thailand Sunday, the president said he had been in contact with the leaders of Egypt and Turkey and reminded them that a workable deal to end the current violence was vital.

"What I have said ... is that those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then 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.

Obama said halting Hamas rocket attacks was a required first step toward getting Israel to wind down its counteroffensive.

"There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders," he said. "So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians."

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lierbman said his government was willing to consider a cease-fire but only after a total halt to rocket fire on Israel, Israel Radio said.

Israel said its air offensive would continue, and Hamas continued to lob rockets into Israeli territory. The New York Times said a missile struck an apartment building in Ashkelon but there was no word of any casualties.

Explosions were heard around Gaza City, and Israeli forces said they knocked out a transmitter that Hamas had been using on the roof of a building used by international journalists.


Obama says Myanmar not a perfect democracy

BANGKOK, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said democracy in Myanmar is a work in progress and his upcoming visit to the nation is not a signal that reforms have gone far enough.

Obama told reporters in Thailand Sunday his pending public speech in Myanmar, also known as Burma, would serve to congratulate the population on its progress toward democracy and that the rest of the world is rooting for them.

"This is not an endorsement of the Burmese government," Obama said. "This is an acknowledgement that there's a process under way inside that country that even 1 1/2-two years ago, nobody foresaw."

Myanmar's military government only recently eased up on human rights, and international activists have said it was too early for Obama's Monday visit. The president said progress should be recognized.

"I don't think anybody is under any illusion that Burma has arrived; that they're where they need to be," he said. "On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time."

Obama met Sunday in Bangkok with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, on the eve of the anniversary of 180 years of diplomacy between the two countries, a joint statement from the two leaders said.

The president "emphasized that Thailand is America's oldest treaty ally in Asia, and the two leaders agreed that this alliance is rooted in the shared commitment to democracy, rule of law, universal human rights, open societies, and a free market, which has bonded the people of the two nations closely together," the statement read.

The two leaders agreed to continued high-level dialogues, creative and educational partnerships, multidimensional engagement to promote regional peace, and the empowerment of women, the statement said.

Obama's final destination on the trip is Cambodia. He will be the first U.S. leader ever to visit the country, which is the most politically unstable of the three on his itinerary.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled for more than 25 years with rapid police response to political dissent.

The New York Times said Obama's tour was meant to substantiate his campaign pledges of giving Asian countries more foreign policy attention.


Iran holds meeting on Syria rebellion

TEHRAN, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Iranian officials, at the opening of a summit in Tehran on ending the bloody rebellion in Syria, blamed foreign conspirators for the uprising.

About 200 representatives of the Syrian government and various opposition parties and ethnic groups traveled to the Iranian capital for Sunday's National Syrian Dialogue Meeting.

The theme was ending violence and developing democracy in Syria but the consensus among the Iranian delegation seemed to be agreement with the Damascus regime's contention the rebellion was the work of hostile powers.

"We believe that today's conflicts in Syria have been imposed by hegemonic powers on the Syrians," said Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi.

Salehi said an important step toward peace would be a "strong response to the plans entailing foreign intervention" and countering "irresponsible armed groups" inside Syria, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

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Bus explosion kills 6 in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A bomb was set off aboard a minibus in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, killing at least six people and injuring at least 15 others, officials said.

The explosion occurred near St Teresa's Church in Nairobi's Eastleigh estate, The Nation reported.

Kenya Red Cross said at least 15 people have been transferred to the Kenyatta National Hospital for treatment of injuries.

Violence broke out immediately after the explosion, with civilians of Somali origin being targeted, the news report said.

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