Obama: Israel has "right to defend itself"

BANGKOK, THAILAND - NOVEMBER 18: US President Barack Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (not pictured) attend a joint press conference, in Government House on November 18, 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand. The US President spoke of Thailand's support of democracy in Myanmar. Obama will become the first serving US President to visit Myanmar during his four-day tour of Southeast Asia that will also include visits to Thailand and Cambodia. (Photo by Jack Kurtz/Getty Images) Jack Kurtz

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a joint news conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Thai Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

As Israeli airstrikes into Hamas-controlled Gaza expand from government targets into civilian areas, President Obama reiterated his support of Israel's "right to defend itself."

"[T]here is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Bangkok during an international trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

"Let's understand what the precipitating event here was that's causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated," the president added. Hamas launched rockets into Israel leading to the current crisis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to "significantly" expand its airstrikes into Gaza and he indicated that Israel could invade Gaza with ground troops. "The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place," he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

Israel's "Iron Dome" rocket-defense system has intercepted 250 Gaza-launched rockets aimed for Tel Aviv, the Israeli government said.

Israeli officials have arrived in Egypt for talks about a cease-fire, and Palestinian officials had already been in Cairo for discussions.

In Bangkok, Mr. Obama said long-term peace is unlikely unless Hamas agrees to cease firing rockets into Israel.

"[T]hose who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any sort of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is, is going to be pushed off way into the future," Mr. Obama said. "So if we're serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired in Israel's territory and that then gives us the space to try to deal with these longstanding conflicts that exist."

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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