Blinken expresses sorrow for innocent Palestinians killed by Israeli forces
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his sorrow 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.
Blinken's visit comes amid an ongoing wave of violence following the new far-right Israeli government’s entry to power, which has seen Israeli forces kill at least 35 Palestinians in 2023 alone.
Over the same period six Israeli settlers, including a child, and one Ukrainian have been killed. All were shot dead in the attack on Friday outside in the illegal settlement of Neve Yaakov.
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 neighbourhood 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.
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.
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.
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 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.