New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel Sunday for a daylong trip to express solidarity with Israelis threatened by Hamas rockets and back the strikes against the militant group.
Bloomberg, accompanied by Congressman Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, visited the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Sderot, both of which have been targeted by Hamas rockets over the past several weeks, and met with New Yorkers who had immigrated.
Israel is in the ninth day of its strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which have killed more than 500 Palestinians. Ground forces pushed into Gaza Saturday night amid widespread world condemnation.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Bloomberg said he fully understood Israel's actions. "You should rest assured, if anyone in New York was being threatened, my instruction to the NYPD (New York police) would be to use all the resources at their disposal to protect civilians," Bloomberg said.
"I think as a New Yorker, we've been attacked twice by al-Qaida itself," said the mayor, who is Jewish. "We've seen enormous devastation and courage and after that you sort of feel you have a bond, if you will, for those who live in a dangerous world and are subject to someone trying to kill them."
Bloomberg blamed the current situation entirely on the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip and began launching rockets against Israeli towns in the south after its six-month truce with Israel lapsed last month.
"All Hamas has to do is stop sending rockets over to kill people and agree on the accords that were negotiated earlier and come to an agreement that is verifiable, durable and effective to stop people from being killed," he added.
During the visit to the embattled town of Sderot, Bloomberg and his party briefly had to be hustled to a bomb shelter when a missile warning went off.
International criticism of Israel has centered on the civilian deaths that have accompanied the attacks on Hamas and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where food, water and electricity are in short supply.
Ackerman, a powerful member of the House of Representatives who chairs the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said the onus of the civilian deaths was on Hamas for using them as human shields.
"They have been the main victimizers of the innocent Palestinian people by inviting these kinds of attacks," he said.