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Obama tells Netanyahu that Kerry will travel to region

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Secretary of State John Kerry will head to the Middle East to work out a cease-fire in the Gaza conflict, President Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sunday’s phone conversation was the second in three days for Obama and Netanyahu about the Gaza operation.

According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Obama informed Netanyahu that John Kerry “will soon travel to Cairo to seek an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement.”

Obama raised “serious concern about the growing number of casualties,” including Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers, the readout said. The president also “reiterated the United States’ condemnation of attacks by Hamas against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Netanyahu in a televised address to Israelis on Sunday night asserted, “We are doing everything to secure the lives of our citizens and soldiers. Israel did not choose to launch this campaign. It was forced on us.”

Addressing the families of the 18 soldiers who have died in the ground operation launched late last week, Netanyahu said, “There’s no war that justifies bringing your sons to the grave.” He called the Israeli troops “professional, determined, and strong both spiritually and in firepower.” He also said the Israel Defense Forces is “exceeding expectations” in Gaza.

Netanyahu said Israel gained international backing for continuing its Gaza operation by accepting three requested cease-fires, two humanitarian, in recent days.

He said Hamas had worked for years on the labyrinth of tunnels discovered under Gaza and leading into Israel, and that the terrorist group was at the point of “terrible terror attacks on us.”

“That was Hamas’ plan all along,” Netanyahu said.

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