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Obama backs Egypt ceasefire efforts for Gaza

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, offering Washington's full diplomatic support.

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, offering Washington's full diplomatic support.

Obama said that while he and the world were "heartbroken" by the deaths of civilians in the Gaza Strip, US ally Israel had the "right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize" its population.

"We're going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the ceasefire, and we support Egypt's continued efforts to bring this about," Obama told reporters in a wide-ranging foreign policy statement.

"Over the next 24 hours, we'll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region, and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a ceasefire."

Israel agreed earlier to a United Nations request to halt its bombardment of Gaza for five hours on humanitarian grounds, after its naval strikes killed four children on a beach.

Israel's campaign, now in its ninth day, has killed 220 Palestinians so far, with a Gaza-based human rights group saying over 80 percent of them were civilians.

In the same period, militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel. They claimed their first Israeli life on Tuesday -- the same day that Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire collapsed.

Obama said the Jewish state has "a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people."

"There's no country on earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets," he added, praising Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system, built with US help.

"The Israeli people and the Palestinian people don't want to live like this. They deserve to live in peace and security free from fear."

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was doing "everything in our power" to end the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, as he kept up contacts with regional leaders.

"Our concern is to have a legitimate ceasefire and see if we can find a way to stop the conflict and killing so we can get to the real issues that are underlying it," Kerry told reporters.

"And we're doing everything in our power."

The top US diplomat said he has been speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arab officials.

The State Department said that Kerry in the past day has spoken to the foreign ministers of Egypt as well as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which are seen as holding influence with Hamas, and to Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi.

Kerry, who has spent much of his tenure seeking unsuccessfully to negotiate a lasting peace agreement, is open to returning to the region if he would be useful, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

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