The Obama administration voiced concern on the eve of a scheduled Washington visit by Israeli's leader about the Jewish state's deadly commando attack on ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists on aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
White House spokesman Bill Burton, speaking a day before President Barack Obama was scheduled to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks at the White House, said the United States "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained" in the incident.
Burton also said that administration officials are "currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy." The United States, among others, has been trying to restart direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but progress toward this achievement has lagged severely in recent months. At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded in the incident Monday.
The raid brought heightened attention to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of the tiny Mediterranean territory in 2007. The blockade — along with Israel's fierce offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 to stop Hamas rocket fire — has fueled anti-Israeli sentiment around the Arab world.
Obama, who has been pushing for a reinvigoration of the peace process, also has a meeting scheduled here June 9 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a statement last week, the White House said that Obama and Abbas planned to discuss the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks and ways the U.S. can work with both parties to move into direct talks. They also will discuss U.S. efforts to support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Obama and fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel discussed the need for a renewed Middle East peace process earlier this month during a private lunch at the White House.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Wiesel said the meeting was a "good kosher lunch" between friends. But he said the conversation did turn serious, as the two Nobel Peace Prize winners discussed the administration's attempts to break the deadlock in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Obama's meeting with Wiesel, a strong supporter of Israel, comes during a period of strained relations between the U.S. and Israel. The author said he believes tensions between the two countries are lessening.
Wiesel survived the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Last June, when Obama visited Germany, Wiesel accompanied the president on a tour of Buchenwald.
Relations between the two countries were tested when Israel announced plans for additional settlements in a part of Jerusalem that Palestinians consider as the likely capital of a new Palestinian state. The announcement came as Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were preparing to have dinner with Netanyahu, in an incident that turned out to be an embarrassment for the Israeli leader.
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