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Obama calls for release of Israeli soldier

"If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible," Obama said while speaking to reporters at the White House.   He further called for every possible effort to be taken to protect civilians in the besieged Palestinian enclave, saying that the situation is "heartbreaking." "Part of the reason why we've been pushing so hard for a ceasefire is precisely because it’s hard to reconcile Israel’s legitimate need to defend itself with our concern with those civilians," he said. "If we can pause with the fighting, then it’s possible that we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security."

Obama defended the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a ceasefire to the now nearly four-week conflict, saying that his top diplomat has worked hard "to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security, but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza, can be addressed."  At least 1,522 Palestinians have been killed and 8,600 others injured in ongoing Israeli offensive. The UN and U.S. announced an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire Thursday night, which went into effect at 8 a.m. local time (05:00 GMT). Israel declared its collapse in the morning, with each side blaming the other for the breakdown. Obama said that the U.S. would continue to work towards another humanitarian ceasefire, but "It’s going to take some time. I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again."

Israel claims that the offensive aims to undermine the ability of Palestinian factions to fire rockets at Israeli cities, and infiltrate the country through cross-border tunnels. According to Israeli figures, at least 63 soldiers have been killed in battles with Palestinian fighters while three civilians have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

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