Blinken urges Israel-Palestinian calm as violence soars

Blinken urges Israel-Palestinian calm as violence soars

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hold a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Khaled Desouki/Pool via AP

JERUSALEM – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and the Palestinians on Monday to ease tensions amid a surge in violence that has put the region on edge. The bloodshed has upset the Biden administration as it tries to find common ground with the new right-wing government of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Arriving at Israel’s international airport near Tel Aviv after a brief visit to Egypt, Blinken said he had come at a “decisive moment” and condemned Palestinian attacks targeting Israeli citizens but also called for restraint in response, saying that all civilian casualties are regrettable.

“Taking an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime, but targeting people outside their place of worship is particularly shocking,” he said, referring to an attack on Friday that killed seven killed people, many of whom a Jerusalem synagogue.

“We strongly condemn this,” he said. “We condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take civilian lives, regardless of who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for revenge against more innocent victims are not the answer. And acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified.”

The latest wave of violence erupted last week with an Israeli military attack on a militant stronghold in the West Bank city of Jenin that killed 10 people, most of them militants, followed by the shooting in a Jewish settlement in the east of Jerusalem that killed seven Israelis. .

Blinken said it was essential for both sides to work to reduce tensions that have risen since last week in what he called “a new and horrific upsurge in violence” that has drawn severe reactions from each.

A family member prepares to place a prayer mat on the body of Nassim Abu Fouda, 26, during his funeral in the West Bank city of Hebron, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Israeli forces shot and killed the Palestinian man in the city’s flashpoint city . the occupied West Bank on Monday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. The killing is the latest bloodshed in spiraling violence that comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region. AP photo/ Mahmoud Illean

“It is everyone’s responsibility to take steps to calm tensions, rather than inflame them,” he said, “this is the only way to stem the rising tide of violence that is taking too many lives, too many Israelis, took too many Palestinians. .

On Monday, shortly before Blinken’s arrival, the Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man in the flashpoint city of Hebron, bringing the toll of Palestinians killed in January to 35.

The violence comes after months of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank, which were launched after a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the spring of 2022 that killed 19 people.

But it has increased this month during the first weeks of Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which has vowed to take a hard line against the Palestinians and increase settlement building.

Blinken’s trip follows visits to Israel by President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Willian Burns. But Blinken’s meetings will be the highest-level US engagement with Netanyahu since he took power back last month and the first since the surge in violence.

Mourners attend the funeral of Israeli couple Eli Mizrahi and his wife, Natalie, victims of a shooting attack Friday in east Jerusalem, at the cemetery in Beit Shemesh, Israel, early Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. Friday, a Palestinian gunman opened fire outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem, killing the couple and five others, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before he was shot and killed by police, officials said. AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

The visit, planned before the flare-up, was already expected to be fraught with tension over differences between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government, which is made up of settlement supporters.

After the Jenin attack, the Palestinians said they would cancel security coordination with Israel and after attacks on Israelis intensified, Israel said it would strengthen Jewish settlements in the West Bank, among other things.

Israeli Army Radio reported late Sunday that the government would also approve a rogue outpost deep inside the West Bank and expedite approval for other such small settlements.

Israel also arrested 42 Palestinians, some relatives of the Jerusalem attacker, in its investigation into the attack. And the fiery Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said he had ordered authorities to demolish illegally built Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem in response to the attack.

The Palestinians believe the Israeli retaliation, including the demolition of homes of attackers’ families, amounts to collective punishment and is illegal under international law.

The turmoil added another item to Blinken’s long diplomatic agenda in Jerusalem that would already include Russia’s war on Ukraine, tensions with Iran and crises in Lebanon and Syria; all of which weigh heavily in the US-Israel relationship.

Easing tensions on these issues, or at least preventing new ones, is central to Blinken’s mission despite Netanyahu’s opposition to two of Biden’s top Middle East priorities: reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But with both of these cases deadlocked and little hope of any resumption in negotiations, the administration is just trying to keep the concepts on life support alive.

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