The United States Expresses Alarm Over Israeli Settler Violence Against Palestinians
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has expressed concern about Israeli settler violence against Palestinians, warning of actions that could escalate insecurity in the region.
Austin held talks in Tel Aviv as Israeli forces killed three suspected Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and demonstrators rallied against the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I am here as a friend deeply committed to the security of the State of Israel, but the United States remains firmly opposed to any actions that could lead to greater insecurity, including settlement expansion and inflammatory rhetoric,” Austin said.
“We are particularly disturbed by settler violence against the Palestinians, so we will continue to oppose measures that may push the two-state solution out of reach,” he said in a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Thousands of Israelis opposed to the Netanyahu government’s legal reform plans blocked roads in and around Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, forcing them to change venues for the Austin talks at the last minute.
And a few hours before Austin’s arrival in Israel, undercover agents from the Israeli Border Police shot dead three Palestinians in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced that three men were killed by Israeli forces in Jaba, near Jenin, in the north of the country.
“We had a very open and honest discussion among friends about the need to calm down, reduce tensions and restore calm, especially ahead of the Easter and Ramadan holidays,” Austin said.
He also called on “the Palestinian leadership to fight terrorism, to resume security cooperation, and to condemn incitement.”
In a meeting with Austin held at Ben Gurion Airport, Netanyahu said that Israel and the United States have “a common agenda to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Austin responded, “You’ve heard us say over and over again that we are committed to Israel’s security.”
Their talks came before Netanyahu left for Rome, which protesters have sought to block using their cars to block access roads.
There were smaller demonstrations in various locations across the country, forcing Netanyahu to travel to the airport by helicopter instead of a car.
Opponents of the reform plans staged nine consecutive weeks of protests, which would give politicians more power over the courts. They have attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators who view the proposals as a threat to democracy.
The upsurge in violence in the West Bank coincided with the tenure of Netanyahu’s coalition government, which took office in December and is considered the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
And the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced, this morning, that three men were “martyred” by Israeli forces’ bullets in Jaba, near the city of Jenin, in the north of the country.
The ministry said the dead were Sufyan Fakhoury, 26, Ahmed Fashafsha, 22, and Nayef Misha, 25, without providing further details.
An Israeli army raid on Tuesday in Jenin killed seven Palestinians, including a Hamas member accused of killing Israeli settlers last month.
The United Nations envoy for peace in the Middle East, Tor Wiennesland, called on Israel and the Palestinians on Wednesday to “exercise calm and restraint”, saying that “the cycle of violence … must be stopped immediately”.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health identified the seventh person killed in Tuesday’s raid, Walid Nassar, 14 years old.
Some observers fear more violence, particularly around holy sites in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in late March, and the Jewish holiday of Passover in April.
Since the beginning of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 75 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.
Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and a Ukrainian civilian were killed during the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources on both sides.
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