US President Barack Obama yesterday backed Israel's right to defend itself and said it was "preferable" for the Gaza crisis to be ended without a "ramping up" of Israeli military action, as fears mounted of a new invasion of the Hamas-run territory.
"Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory," Obama said, adding, "if that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable".
Obama spoke, in Thailand, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to "significantly expand" its operation against militants in the Gaza Strip, sparking fears of a new invasion.
His comments came on a day in which the crisis deepened, with two rockets shot down over Tel Aviv and the Palestinian death toll from retaliatory strikes reaching 69.
The US president said the "precipitating event" of the Gaza crisis was a string of extremist rocket attacks on Israeli territory, which he said no nation in the world would tolerate.
"There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders," he said.
Obama has spoken to Netanyahu, with whom he has had a tense relationship, several times since the start of the crisis, most recently on Friday.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday warned that Israel could lose much of its international support if it sent troops into Gaza.
"A ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation," he said.
"It's much more difficult to restrict and avoid civilian casualties during a ground invasion and a large ground operation would threaten to prolong the conflict."