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Obama welcomes Egypt's ceasefire plan for Gaza

US President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room at the White House in Washington on July 14, 2014
US President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room at the White House in Washington on July 14, 2014

US President Barack Obama welcomed Egypt's proposal for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, saying he hoped it could restore calm.

At an Iftar dinner marking the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, Obama also said Israel had a right to defend itself against "inexcusable" rocket attacks but described the deaths of Palestinian civilians in the conflict as a "tragedy."

Obama spoke after Egypt said a ceasefire should start on Tuesday and that it was willing to host high-level Israeli and Palestinian delegations for talks after a truce went into effect.

Obama said Washington's priority was to restore a 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after a previous explosion of violence.

"We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal that we hope can restore the calm that we are seeking," Obama said in the State Dining Room of the White House.

"The pictures that we are seeing in Gaza and in Israel are heart wrenching," he added.

"I will say very clearly, no country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at civilians. We have been very clear -- Israel has a right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas."

"At the same time ... the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we have emphasized the need to protect civilians regardless of who they are or where they live."

Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said US Secretary of State John Kerry has been "deeply engaged in conversations" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian officials and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on the crisis.

A senior State Department official meanwhile said that, since Saturday, Kerry had talked to Netanyahu four times, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Qatar twice and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Jordan once each.

At least 186 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip as the conflict entered its eighth day.

Israel says its air strikes are in response to Hamas rocket fire on its cities, which have mostly been blown out of the sky by Israeli interceptor missiles without causing any deaths.

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