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Gaza Militants Fire Rockets, As Obama Heads To West Bank

President Barack Obama arives for a joint press conference with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqataa, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama arives for a joint press conference with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqataa, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel on Thursday, just as President Obama travelled from Israel to the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

NPR's Larry Abramson filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"Two of the rockets reached the southern town of Sderot, but one fell in an open area. The other caused some damage to a building, according to Israeli police."

"This is only the second incident of rocket launchings from Gaza since a ceasefire was reached between Hamas and Israel in November. President Obama, who spent last night in Jerusalem, is to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today."

"Parts of the city have been blocked off and schools have been closed. In recent days, Palestinians have staged a series of small but vocal demonstrations against U.S. support for Israel."

The New York Times reached a spokesman for Hamas, who did not take responsibility for the rocket launch. Salah al-Bardawil told the paper that in November, Obama had given Israel a "green light to destroy Gaza." Obama, he told the paper, "speaks in the language of Israel."

The Wall Street Journal adds a bit more background on the Palestinian Authority, which is facing tough times. The Journal reports:

"The Palestinian Authority is short on cash and has struggled to pay its 150,000 public servants on time in recent months fueling popular discontent with the leadership. In addition to seeking financial aide, Mr. Abbas is expected to ask Mr. Obama to pressure Israel to make some confidence building measures to strengthen his domestic political standing, which many believe is at an all-time low, and allow him to resume peace talks without appearing to have caved.

"For Mr. Obama, the visit with Palestinian leaders is a tricky diplomatic balancing act in which he must show support for the Palestinians without undercutting his message to Israelis."

Update at 8:03 a.m. ET. 'Peace Is Necessary':

During a joint press conference, President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said both countries were committed to peace.

"We believe peace is necessary and inevitable," Abbas said.

But that talk quickly dissipated into reality. Obama first condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza and then went on to criticize Hamas, whom he said is more interested in "destroying Israel," than in bringing prosperity to Palestinians. Remember, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are rivals. Abbas controls the West Bank and Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, a year after it swept into power through elections.

Obama was asked if after talking to leaders from both sides, he still believed a two-state solution was possible.

"I absolutely believe that it's still possible, but it is difficult," Obama said.

One of the big issues that has kept leaders from direct negotiations is that Israel has continued expanding its settlements. Obama said he has been clear with Netanyahu that continued settlement activity is neither "constructive" nor "appropriate."

But Obama said both sides need to ditch any preconditions and begin direct negotiations that adress the core two issues in this conflict: Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security.

"We cannot give up on our search for peace," Obama said. At one point, he got personal. Palestinians deserve dignity and a sovereign state, he said. Look at the United States. At one point in American history, his daughters would not have had the opportunities they have now.

Change is hard, he said, but it is possible.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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