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Published: Friday July 11, 2014 MYT 7:10:05 AM
Updated: Friday July 11, 2014 MYT 7:10:05 AM

Obama tells Israel U.S. ready to help end hostilities

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama expressed concern to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday about the risk of an escalation of hostilities in the region and said the United States was ready to help bring them to an end, the White House said.

"The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement," the White House said Obama told Netanyahu in a phone call.

Obama reiterated U.S. condemnation of rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself against the attacks, the White House said.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Egyptian counterpart in an attempt to get Egypt to use its influence to calm the situation, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"Part of the secretary's effort has been reaching out to countries in the region, including Qatar, including Egypt," Psaki said at a briefing earlier in the day.

"Any country in the region that can play a role in bringing an end to the rocket fire from Hamas, we're certainly going to be engaged with."

The U.S. government refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

Egypt played a crucial role in mediating an Israel-Hamas ceasefire in 2012.

A senior U.S. official said Kerry's phone call with Egypt's foreign minister was a discussion about how to reduce tensions between Israel and Hamas and "how to influence Hamas if that's possible."

The Israelis "know we have been in touch with Egypt and Qatar" to seek help in calming the situation in Gaza, the official said.

(With additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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