Obama breaks silence on Gaza, voices concern

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 6, 2009 7:04pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, breaking his silence about the Gaza war, expressed deep concern on Tuesday about civilian deaths in Gaza and in Israel and vowed to push for Middle East peace when he takes power.

Speaking after Israeli tank shells killed at least 40 Palestinians at a U.N. school where civilians had taken shelter, Obama said "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me."

Obama otherwise said he would adhere to his principle that only U.S. President George W. Bush would speak for American foreign policy at this time, but said he would have plenty more to say after his January 20 inauguration.

He expressed deep concern about the conflict but made no mention of a "durable, sustainable and not time-limited" cease-fire sought by the Bush administration.

Nonetheless, he gave his most extensive comments about the Gaza conflict, responding to criticism from some commentators in the region that he had been too quiet about a top foreign policy challenge that will greet him as soon as he walks into the White House.

Obama was accused by critics both of siding with Israel with his silence or of failing to stand with the Jewish state as it seeks to repel rocket attacks from the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Speaking to reporters, Obama pledged to work for a resolution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue that has bedevilled several American presidents.

"After January 20 I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue, and I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to be engaged effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East," he said. "That's something I am committed to."

Until then, he said, his job is to monitor the situation, and his aides are keeping him constantly up to date on developments.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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