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At a White House dinner of solidarity, Obama addresses war

By Matthew Hoye, CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room at the White House in Washington on July 14, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dinning Room at the White House in Washington on July 14, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The annual Iftar dinner honors Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan
  • President Obama staunchly defends Israel's right to defend its borders
  • He adds that "the death and injury of Palestinians is a tragedy"
  • Obama also addresses the civil wars in Syria and Iraq

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama used the annual White House Iftar dinner Monday evening to briefly discuss the crises unfolding in the Mideast.

"Even as we celebrate all that we have in common, we know that in too many corners of the world, we see violence and terror, and those who would destroy rather than build," he said.

The White House Iftar dinner was started by former President Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush continued the tradition after the 9-11 terror attacks. President Obama has also continued to host them.

The dinner is meant to honor Muslims who are celebrating the end of a day of fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

On the growing conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, the President staunchly defended Israel's right to defend its borders.

"No country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens," Obama said. "And so we've been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas."

He added, though, that "the death and injury of Palestinians is a tragedy, which is why we've emphasized the need to protect civilians."

The President also said, "The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart wrenching."

He pushed for both sides to come back to the negotiating table and described a new plan offered by Egypt as "promising," saying he hopes it "will restore the calm that we've been seeking."

He said Americans "care deeply about what is happening there, and I know there are strong views as well as differences about how we should move forward.

"Our goal has been and continues to be peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians."

Obama also restated his administration's policy on Syria, telling those gathered that, "the Assad regime continues its brutality against the Syrian people and so we continue to help Syrians stand up to [President Bashar al-]Assad and deal with the humanitarian crisis and push back against extremists."

On Iraq, Obama said, "We continue to call for a new government that can unite Iraqis and show all communities in Iraq that they can advance their aspirations through the political process."

Earlier, several dozen protesters gathered outside the White House to call on Arab leaders to boycott the dinner, saying the administration was unfairly taking Israel's side in the Gaza conflict.

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