West News Wire: After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his sympathy for the “innocent” Palestinians killed in a spike in violence in the occupied West Bank.
On the last leg of a Middle East journey intended to quell the killing, Washington’s top diplomat met Abbas in Ramallah, in the West Bank, after discussions with Netanyahu and cabinet ministers of Israel.
Blinken’s visit coincides with an ongoing surge of violence brought on by the installation of the new far-right Israeli government, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 35 Palestinians by Israeli troops in 2023 alone.
Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians during a deadly massacre in the West Bank’s Jenin on Thursday and proceeded to bomb the besieged Gaza Strip on Friday morning, causing the destruction of several properties. No injuries were reported.
In response to the Jenin attack, a Palestinian gunman on Friday killed seven people in an illegal settler neighborhood of occupied east Jerusalem, and another attack followed on Saturday.
Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken expressed his “sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year”.
Israeli forces ramped up raids on the occupied West Bank Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps at the beginning of 2022, as Palestinian armed activism against Israeli occupation increased too.
The escalation claimed the lives of 225 Palestinians by the end of 2022. In October 2022, the UN said it was probably the deadliest year for Palestinians since 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.
A day after meeting with Netanyahu, the US ambassador encouraged both parties to take “urgent efforts” to defuse tensions. The Palestinian leader and the US envoy made their remarks together on the same day.
In response to the shooting in east Jerusalem, Blinken also denounced Palestinians “who celebrate acts of terrorism that take innocent lives” on Monday.
The top US ambassador claimed that after meeting Palestinians in the West Bank, he observed a “shrinking horizon of hope” for Palestinians.
Blinken visited Yoav Gallant, the new Israeli defense minister who was appointed as a member of the right-wing coalition Netanyahu established in December, before the two of them traveled to the West Bank on Tuesday.
Blinken received appreciation from Gallant for his “unwavering support” in preserving Israel’s military advantage in the area.
Hamas 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 legalization 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.