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WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama thanked his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Mursi yesterday for his role is negotiating a planned truce between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
“The president thanked President Mursi for his efforts to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and for his personal leadership in negotiating a ceasefire proposal,” the White House said in a statement.
Obama also reaffirmed the “close partnership” between Washington and Cairo, the White House said, adding that the two leaders “agreed on the importance of working towards a more durable solution to the situation in Gaza.”
The ceasefire bid, agreed to by Israel and Hamas, would end a week of violence in and around the Gaza strip that has left more than 150 people dead.
It came after a day of shuttle diplomacy - led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - that was marred by more deadly cross-border violence between Israel and militants in Gaza.
The conflict had threatened to take a new turn yesterday when a bomb ripped through a commuter bus in Israel’s commercial capital, injuring 17 people and sparking panic. It prompted Israel to hit back with deadly air raids on Gaza City and elsewhere in the Palestinian territory.
Israel launched its offensive on November 14 with the targeted killing of a Hamas military chief.
Obama also praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to support an Egyptian plan for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict, the White House said.
“The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which the president recommended the prime minister do, while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself,” it said.
The White House statement said Obama had spoken with Netanyahu by telephone and assured him “that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians.”
Obama also welcomed Netanyahu’s willingness to cooperate with Egypt’s bid to arrange a truce in a conflict in which Palestinian militants have fired rockets into Israel and Israeli jets, ships and artillery have struck targets in Gaza.
“The president expressed his appreciation for the prime minister’s efforts to work with the new Egyptian government to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and a more durable solution to this problem,” the statement said.
“The president said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.
“The president said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defence programmes,” it added, referring to an Israeli anti-missile shield that has intercepted some incoming Palestinian rockets.
EU welcomes Gaza ceasefire
European Union leaders, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, yesterday welcomed the ceasefire proclaimed in Gaza, saying it was “now crucial” to make sure it was implemented.
In a joint statement, Barroso, who heads the European Commission, and Van Rompuy, president of the EU Council, said “we welcome wholeheartedly the cease-fire that has just been proclaimed in Gaza”.
“It is now crucial to ensure its implementation and to prevent the restart of violence,” they said.
The statement added that the events of the last days “stress the urgent need to move towards a two-state solution allowing both sides to live side-by-side in peace and security”.
“The European Union remains determined to continue working to assist in achieving this goal.”
Gazans took to the streets to celebrate the start of a truce deal with Israel, firing into the air, honking car horns and chanting victory slogans shortly after the 1900 GMT deadline for the ceasefire to start.