CAIRO (Reuters): U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would urge Israelis and Palestinians to calm tensions as he visits on Monday during the worst violence in years, and reaffirmed a long-stalled peace vision as the “only path” forward.
In new bloodshed, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed a 26-year-old man at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. The army said troops opened fire on the man’s car after he rammed into one of them and attempted to flee an inspection.
Israel is on high alert after a Palestinian opened fire in a street outside a synagogue on Friday, killing seven people in the worst such attack in the Jerusalem area for over a decade. That followed an Israeli raid on the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday in which 10 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, were killed.
“There is no question that this is a very difficult moment,” Blinken told reporters in Cairo before departing for Tel Aviv. “We have seen, over many months, rising violence that is affecting so many.”
In meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken said, “we will be … encouraging the parties to take steps to calm things down, to de-escalate tensions.”
The last round of U.S.-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2014.
Netanyahu’s new hardline government includes partners who oppose Palestinian statehood, and control over the Palestinian territories is divided between Abbas, who favours diplomacy, and rival Hamas Islamists who are sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Nevertheless, Blinken described Washington as “a stalwart believer in the negotiated two-state solution – the only path to a lasting resolution for the conflict”.
Since Jan. 1, at least 35 Palestinians, both gunmen and civilians, have been killed in near-daily raids by the army, according to the Ramallah health ministry – making it the bloodiest month in the West Bank since 2015.
The United States has voiced support for Israel’s security and for Palestinians to enjoy equal measures of dignity.
Containing the violence has been complicated by the actions of so-called “lone wolves” like the 21-year-old who carried out Friday’s attack and apparently had no connection with Palestinian militant groups.
Palestinian officials said Israeli settlers had set fire on Monday to two cars near the northern West Bank city of Nablus and thrown stones at a house near Ramallah, following a similar attack on Sunday.
Such incidents occur regularly without attracting much notice. But in the current climate, they have added to the potential for the violence to worsen.