TEL AVIV: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Israel, expressed concerns on Thursday about Jewish settler violence against Palestinians and warned against acts that could trigger more insecurity.
Austin held talks in Israel as flaring violence killed three Palestinian in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and protesters rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.
“I’m here as a friend who’s deeply committed to the security of the State of Israel, but the United States also remains firmly opposed to any acts that could trigger more insecurity, including settlement expansion and inflammatory rhetoric,” said the Pentagon chief.
“We are especially disturbed by violence by settlers against Palestinians so we’ll continue to oppose actions that could push a two-state solution further out of reach,” he told a joint news conference with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Galant.
Thousands of Israelis opposed to the government’s legal reform plans had blocked roads in and around Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, forcing a last-minute change of venue for Austin’s talks.
And just hours before Austin’s arrival in Israel, undercover agents of Israel’s border police shot dead three Palestinian in the West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry announced the “martyrdom” of three men shot by Israeli forces in Jaba, near the northern city of Jenin.
“We’re meeting today in a time of tensions so we had a very frank and candid discussion among friends about the need to de-escalate, to lower tensions and restore calm, especially before the holidays of Passover and Ramadan,” Austin said.
The Pentagon chief also called on the “Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism and to resume security cooperation and to condemn incitement”.
Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 71 Palestinian adults and children, including civilians.
Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.