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Americas
Gaza strikes challenge for Obama
Deadly Israeli assault on Gaza poses major challenge for incoming US president.
Last Modified: 29 Dec 2008 19:48 GMT
The violence in Gaza will be one of Obama's top challenges when he takes office [Reuters]

While the Gaza Strip erupted at the weekend Barack Obama remained in holiday mode in Hawaii, sticking to his regular gym routine and otherwise relaxing.

The military action comes just three weeks before Obama is sworn in as president and poses a great challenge for a man who has promised to work for Middle East peace from his first day in office.

But although the president-elect has received briefings on the situation, David Axelrod, Obama’s top political adviser, said it would be inappropriate for the incoming chief executive to comment while George Bush is still president.

Nevertheless, he said Obama stood by his defence of Israeli actions when he visited the southern town of Sderot last July, a frequent target of Hamas rockets.

"He said then that when bombs are raining down on your citizens there is an urge to respond and act to put an end to that," Axelrod told CBS talkshow Face the Nation on Sunday.

"That's what he said then, and that’s what he believes."

He said Obama planned to work closely with Israel which he said was Washington's "most important ally in the region".

Critics say US support for Israel
could backfire [Reuters]
"They're a great ally of ours... And that is a fundamental principle from which he'll work. But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that."

Alliance

Like Bush, Obama has ruled out talks with Hamas for its refusal to recognise Israel.

During his White House campaign, Obama pledged to further cement the US-Israeli alliance saying he would "always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world".

Even so, critics of US Middle East policy say Obama ought to express more empathy for the Palestinians' situation.

Michael Hudson, professor of international relations at Georgetown University said that by backing Israel's position the US was opening itself up to attack.

"If you're identified with an Israel that is bombing indiscriminately and disproportionately, this is really good for Osama Bin laden, it's good for extremists all across the region and I fear that Americans as well as Israelis will now suffer," he told Al Jazeera.

In contrast to the incumbent president, Obama has pledged to take an active personal role in peace efforts early in his administration.

How long those efforts are waylaid by the ongoing fighting, however, is a question no one can yet answer.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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