Tuesday Jan 31, 2023
RAMALLAH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his sorrow Tuesday for "innocent" Palestinians martyred in a spike of violence in the occupied West Bank, after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Washington's top diplomat met Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on the final stop of a Middle East tour aimed at curbing the bloodshed, following meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the cabinet minister.
Both sides are reeling from a new wave of violence. A man shot dead seven people in an Israeli settlement in annexed east Jerusalem on Friday, a day after the deadliest army raid in years in the West Bank claimed 10 Palestinian lives.
This month the conflict has martyred 35 Palestinian adults and children as well as six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian, killed on Friday.
Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken expressed his "sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year".
The year 2022 was the deadliest in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the occupied territory in 2005.
"Palestinians and Israelis alike are experiencing growing insecurity, growing fear in their homes, in their communities and in their places of worship," said Blinken.
The US envoy's remarks alongside the Palestinian leader came a day after he met with Netanyahu when he urged both sides to take "urgent steps" to calm tensions.
After meeting Palestinian residents in the West Bank, the US top diplomat said he saw a "shrinking horizon of hope" for Palestinians.
Before heading to the West Bank on Tuesday, Blinken met new Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who took office as part of the right-wing government Netanyahu formed in December.
Gallant praised Blinken for his "unwavering support" in helping safeguard Israel's military superiority in the region.
The fatal east Jerusalem shooting was preceded by the Israeli forces' deadliest operation in the West Bank in years, killing 10 people Thursday in the densely populated Jenin refugee camp. Israel said its forces targeted Islamic Jihad operatives.
The Israeli military later hit sites in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.
The group said Blinken's visit "emphasises the absolute support and partnership with the (Israeli) occupation".
Netanyahu's cabinet has moved to punish "the families of terrorists that support terrorism" with home demolitions and other measures.
His government is also planning to rescind the rights to social security benefits of attackers' relatives, and steps to make it easier for Israeli citizens to obtain permits to carry firearms.
Blinken had made an initial stop in Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, commending "Egypt's important role in promoting stability in the region".
The diplomats and intelligence services of Egypt — a major recipient of US military aid — are regularly called upon to intercede between Israelis and Palestinians.
Blinken's Israel visit is part of the Biden administration's efforts to engage quickly with Netanyahu, who had tense relations with the previous Democratic president Barack Obama.
Blinken reiterated US support for a Palestinian state, a prospect few expect to advance under the new Israeli government.
Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken criticised Israeli moves which Washington believes create barriers to the two-state solution.
He listed "settlement expansion, the legalisation of (settlement) outposts, demolitions and evictions, disruptions to the historic status of the holy sites, and of course incitement and acquiescence to the violence".
Controversial policies such as settlements and demolition of Palestinian homes have been high on the agenda of Netanyahu's new government, the most-right wing administration in Israeli history.
During Netanyahu's previous tenure, Israel established ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Morocco, under deals brokered by then-US president Donald Trump.
Netanyahu said Monday that expanding those deals and "working to close, finally, the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I think would also help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbours".