Obama voices concern about casualties in the MidEast

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Obama voices concern over Mideast casualties
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Obama voices concern about casualties in the MidEast
President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine and Gaza, at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine and Gaza, at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Smoke rises after Israeli missile strikes hit the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A Hamas website says Israel has fired missiles at the homes of four of its senior leaders as it resumed bombardment of Gaza, following a failed Egyptian cease-fire effort. Wednesday's bombings came after Hamas rejected an Egyptian truce proposal on Tuesday and instead launched more rockets at Israel. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Israeli soldiers of the 155mm artillery cannons unit fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the coastal Palestinian enclave, on July 21, 2014. World efforts to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza gathered pace as Israel pressed a blistering 14-day assault on the enclave, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 558. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JULY 21: Funeral ceremony is held for Israeli soldier Moshe Malko, killed during the 'Operation Protective Edge', at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on July 21, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel army says that 13 of its soldiers died since Saturday night. (Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Palestinians grieve over the death of relatives as they wait outside the morgue of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city, on July 21, 2014. World efforts to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza gathered pace as Israel pressed a blistering 14-day assault on the enclave, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 548. AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS (Photo credit should read MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 21: Scores of Palestinian Muslims on Monday sought refuge in central Gaza City's Church of St. Porphyrius after the Shujaya neighborhood in the eastern part of the city was pounded by Israeli artillery one day earlier, July 21, 2014 in Gaza City. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 21: Search and rescue team at the scene to save Palestinians after Israeli shelling in Gaza city, July 21,2014. The Palestinian death toll has risen to 541 following two weeks of devastating Israeli bombardments of the blockaded Gaza Strip. (Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By Lara Jakes
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama called Monday for the international community to focus on ending the fighting in the Gaza Strip, as Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Middle East to make a renewed push for a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

Voicing fresh concern about civilian casualties, Obama reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself against rockets being launched by Hamas into Israel. Yet he contended that Israel's military action in Gaza had already done "significant damage" to the Hamas terrorist infrastructure and said he doesn't want to see more civilians getting killed.

"We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives," Obama said. "And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel."

As Obama spoke from South Lawn of the White House, Kerry was flying to Cairo, where he planned to join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012. He will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting. More than 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed in that time.

The Obama administration, including Kerry, is sharpening its criticism of Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel and other provocative acts, like tunneling under the border. At the same time, the U.S. is publicly encouraging Israel to take further steps to prevent Palestinian deaths.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Israel and its military have standards for avoiding the deaths of innocent civilians, Israeli or Palestinian.

"We would like to see Israel take greater steps to ensure that they're adhering to those standards," he said.

Two Americans, Max Steinberg of California and Nissim Carmeli of Texas, who fought for the Israel Defense Forces were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip. The State Department confirmed the names of the two U.S. citizens Sunday night.

Cairo's cease-fire plan is backed by the U.S. and Israel. But Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey for an alternative proposal. Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.

Making the rounds of Sunday talk shows, Kerry said Hamas needs to recognize its own responsibility for the conflict.

"It's ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen," Kerry told ABC's "This Week."

Both Obama and Kerry have said Israel has a right to defend itself Kerry accused Hamas of attempting to sedate and kidnap Israelis through a network of tunnels that militants have used to stage cross-border raids.

Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Hamas must "step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire."

The nearly two-week conflict appeared to be escalating as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was already in the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.

Obama, in a telephone call Sunday, told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Kerry was coming to the Mideast and condemned Hamas' attacks, according to a White House statement.

The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates that 70,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in the fighting and are seeking shelter in schools and other shelters the United Nations has set up.

U.S. officials said Hamas could bring relief to the Palestinian people if it agrees to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt - a view Netanyahu is pushing as well.

Netanyahu said in an ABC interview that Israel has tried to avoid killing Palestinian civilians by making phone calls, sending text messages and dropping leaflets on their communities. But Hamas doesn't "give a whit about the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. "All they want is more and more civilian deaths."

The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, but he then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets and shut down the tunnels leading into Israel.

Kerry spoke Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week," CBS' "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday."

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