Following talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the White House, President Barack Obama called the increasingly tense environment in the Mideast "unsustainable".
Obama said Israel needs a "better approach" in blockaded Gaza that would satisfy both security and humanitarian needs. He also predicted "real progress" in coming months in U.S. efforts to support direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas came a little more than a week after Israel's raid on a flotilla hoping to break the blockade. Nine men in the flotilla were killed, including eight Turks and a Turkish American. Israel says its soldiers opened fire only after they were mobbed by pro-Palestinian activists. The activists and their supporters say Israel's commandos began shooting unnecessarily.
Obama told reporters from National Public Radio that the Gaza blockade had been a major topic of conversation in the meeting with the Palestinian Authority President.
"Our conversation was focused on how do we actually allow more goods, more services into Gaza," Obama told reporters. "How do we allow businesses to thrive? How can we get construction moving? How can we put people to work in Gaza?"
The Associated Press reports that Obama suggested a "new conceptual framework" to the blockade to ensure that both Israel's security requirements and the Gaza people's needs are met. He said he would discuss the idea with U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East. He did not join international calls for Israel to end the embargo against Gaza. Israel says its three-year-old blockade keeps Gaza's Hamas rulers from smuggling in weapons. Critics say it has cut Gaza off from the outside world and caused widespread suffering for its 1.5 million Palestinians.
"It seems to me that we should be able to take what has been a tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are actually directly improved," Obama told reporters brought into the Oval Office at the conclusion of the meeting.
On Wednesday, Israel took a first step toward easing the blockade by allowing potato chips, cookies, spices and other previously banned food items into the Gaza Strip but today, according to the Associated Press, the Hamas government says as long as Israel mantains its blockade of the Gaza Strrip, it will not allow these newly approved food items into the territory. Hamas Economics Minister Ziad al-Zaza says these items are easily produced by Gaza's own factories and what is most needed are the raw materials. These items and other supplies remain mostly banned by Israel.
Obama reiterated his call for a two-state solution in the region, with "a Palestinian state side-by-side with an Israel that is secure." He also announced that the U.S. was sending an additional $400 million in aid to Gaza.
The president's meeting with Abbas was to have followed a similar session between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on June 1. Netanyahu canceled that meeting to return home after the flotilla raid. Netanyahu and Obama have agreed to reschedule, though a new date has not been announced.
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH THURSDAY'S NEWS: Hamas rejects Israel's newly allowed food saying they need raw building supplies, not materials producible in the territory.