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Blinken voices sorrow for 'innocent' Palestinians killed

Top diplomat reiterates US support for Palestinian state

By AFP - Feb 01,2023 - Last updated at Feb 01,2023

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands following their meeting in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his sorrow on Tuesday for "innocent" Palestinians killed in a spike of violence in the occupied West Bank, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Washington's top diplomat met Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on the final stop on a Middle East tour aimed at curbing the bloodshed, following meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet minister.

Both sides are reeling from a new wave of violence. A Palestinian shot dead seven people in an Israeli settlement in 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 killed 35 Palestinian adults and children, including civilians.

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.

Blinken on Monday also condemned Palestinians "who celebrate... acts of terrorism that take innocent lives", in the wake of the shooting in east Jerusalem.

After meeting Palestinian residents in the West Bank, the US top diplomat said he saw a “shrinking horizon of hope” for Palestinians.


‘Unwavering support’ 


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 on Thursday in the densely populated Jenin refugee camp. Israel said its forces targeted Islamic Jihad operatives.

The Israeli forces later hit sites in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.

The Islamist 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.


‘Close the file’ 


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 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.

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