US President Barack Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday, seeking to de-escalate the conflict in Gaza.
Obama stressed to both leaders that Israel had the right to self-defense following a volley of rocket attacks on its
soil by Gaza-based militants and also asked Netanyahu to try to avoid civilian casualties in reprisal strikes.
He intervened amid fast-rising fears of a new war over Gaza after Israel killed a Hamas military chief in an air strike and the Palestinian militant movement warned the Jewish state had opened "the gates of hell".
"The President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States' support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians," a White House statement said.
"The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties." The statement said Obama and Netanyahu agreed that Hamas needed to stop attacks on Israel to "allow the situation to de-escalate."
Obama and Netanyahu spoke after the Israeli leader, who has had a rocky relationship with the current US administration, briefed Vice President Joe Biden on the latest events in Gaza.
The US leader also spoke with Morsi in recognition of Egypt's "central role in preserving regional security," the White House said.
"In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel's right to self-defense," the White House statement said.
"The two leaders agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible and agreed to stay in close touch in the days ahead."
Morsi, an Islamist elected in June after ex-president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in 2011, has promised to take a harder line than his predecessor, who was accused of doing little to stop Israel's Gaza assault beginning in 2008.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
The president's Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is closely aligned with the Hamas rulers of neighboring Gaza, called for an economic boycott of Israel.
Its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, warned that Israel "must take into account the changes in the Arab region and especially Egypt."
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