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Kerry condemns Palestinian 'attacks' as he meets Israel PM

AFP , Tuesday 24 Nov 2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 24, 2015 (Photo: AFP)
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US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed strong support for Israel and condemned a wave of Palestinian "attacks" Tuesday as he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to ease weeks of Palestinian protest, which encountered severe Israeli repression.

Arriving with scant hopes for a major breakthrough, Kerry discussed with Netanyahu ways of calming tensions and planned to do the same later in the day with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

With the region's focus on the conflict in Syria, where a Russian fighter jet was downed by Turkey, Netanyahu gave no sign he would acquiesce to the American expectation of concrete measures to calm the volatile situation.

Netanyahu had told Kerry that the root of the current wave of protests was Palestinian "incitement on social media," and said that "civilian Palestinian projects" would be allowed to advance only when Israel experiences a "return of the quiet," an Israeli official said.

The premier also conditioned Palestinian construction in Israeli-occupied parts of the West Bank on international recognition of Israel's right to build in settlement blocs, the official said.

Ahead of meeting Netanyahu, Kerry condemned the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis since the start of October.

"Clearly, no people anywhere should live with daily violence, with attacks in the streets, with knives, with scissors, cars," Kerry told reporters at Netanyahu's office ahead of their talks.

"Today I express my complete condemnation for any act of terror that takes innocent lives."

Kerry also mentioned American victims of the attacks, with at least three US citizens -- two with dual citizenship and one from Kerry's home state of Massachusetts -- killed in the wave of protests that began on October 1.

He however made no mention of resolving the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his remarks before the meeting amid US pessimism over whether significant negotiations can be held before President Barack Obama leaves office in little over a year.

After the talks with Netanyahu ended, Kerry spokesman John Kirby said that the two discussed Syria and ISIS group as well as "steps that can be taken to stop the violence in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank".

The lack of specifics, at least publicly, regarding the Palestinians will likely disappoint Abbas, with Palestinian officials saying they were hoping Kerry would pressure Netanyahu.

Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary-general Saeb Erekat told AFP in an interview Monday that if nothing concrete comes out of the meetings with Kerry, the Palestinians could move forward on changing longstanding links with Israel, including security coordination.

The violence has left 92 Palestinians dead, including one Arab Israeli, as well as 17 Israelis -- including the two Israeli-Americans -- one American and an Eritrean.

The current wave of protests by Palestinians and repression by Israeli occupation forces started in late July when toddler Ali Dawabsha was burned to death and three other Palestinians were severely injured after their house in the occupied West Bank was set on fire by Israeli settlers.

Palestinian protests were also triggered by an increase in Jewish visitors to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinians fear that Israel is preparing to allow Jewish prayers in the mosque, which are not currently allowed.

Settlement-building, racial discrimination, confiscation of identity cards, long queues at checkpoints, as well as daily clashes and the desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque, have been Palestinians' daily routine.

The anger of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem has increased in the last three years after the Israeli authorities allowed increasing numbers of Jewish settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque. 

The violence continued as Kerry arrived on Tuesday, when a Palestinian rammed a vehicle into Israeli troops at a junction south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, wounding four before being shot.

Three Palestinian attackers -- including a teenage girl -- and an Israeli soldier died in violence on Monday.

The stabbings, shootings and car rammings have mainly been carried out by Palestinians who have defied Abbas's calls for peaceful resistance to Israel's occupation.

Many of them have been young people, including teenagers, reflecting anger and lost hope over Israel's occupation, the Palestinians' fractured leadership and the complete lack of progress in peace efforts, some analysts say.

Kerry said he was "here today to talk to the prime minister about ways we can work together, all of us in the international community, to push back against terrorism".

Netanyahu has come under pressure to tighten security and on Monday he announced stricter controls on Palestinian vehicles and an increase in so-called "bypass roads," which create separate routes for Palestinians and Israeli settlers.

Israel has already adopted the controversial policy of demolishing the homes of attackers, which it says acts as a deterrent.

Kerry has repeatedly called for both sides to take "concrete steps" to reduce tension and end provocative rhetoric, but his words have had little impact on the ground.

There is also little optimism he will be able to convince the Palestinian and Israeli leaders to resume peace talks, which broke down more than 18 months ago.

"There's no agreement to be reached between the parties right now," one senior US official said.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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