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Monday May 31, 2010 8:47 PM (EST+7)
Obama urges Netanyahu to get facts on Gaza ship raid

Read more: Barack Obama, Flotilla, international condemnation, US-Israel relations

WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters/Matt Spetalnick) - US President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he deeply regretted the loss of life in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on Monday and urged him to quickly collect all the facts about the incident.

The White House's cautious response, which contrasted with an outcry against Israel's actions in Europe and the Muslim world, reflected a difficult balancing act for Obama.

He will face international pressure to join condemnation of Israel but will also be mindful that the Jewish state, a close US ally, is popular with American lawmakers and voters. At the same time, fledgling US-led Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are at risk of collapse.

The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, the White House said in a summary of Obama's phone call to Netanyahu hours after 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza.

The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible, it said.

Obama, ending a long holiday weekend in Chicago, also told Netanyahu he understood his decision to cancel their White House talks set for Tuesday and return home from a visit to Canada. They agreed to reschedule a meeting soon, the White House said.

Israeli marines' storming of the aid ship unleashed international outrage over the bloody end to a bid by human rights campaigners to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The UN Security Council called an emergency session for later on Monday.

Israeli military officials said commandos came under fire, including with weapons that the activists had snatched from the boarding party.


Netanyahu, who expressed full support for the operation, cut short his North America trip to fly back to Israel and deal with the crisis.

Obama had hoped to use their talks to give a nudge to indirect US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and to ease lingering U.S.-Israeli tensions over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land.

Getting long-stalled negotiations back underway, even ins the so-called proximity format, marked Obama's biggest achievement in Middle East diplomacy since taking office last year pledging to make it a priority for his administration. The effort is also part of his outreach to the Muslim world.

But there has been little progress since the talks started this month, with chances for a breakthrough considered slim.

After the Gaza flotilla incident, prospects even for keeping the process alive look bleak.

Obama will have a chance to try to salvage the situation when he meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called the Israeli raid a massacre, at the White House on June 9.

Potential fallout from the incident poses another big headache for Obama, who is already struggling with a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill at home and nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran abroad.






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