Netanyahu tries to calm outcry over Smotrich's call to 'wipe out' Huwara

Netanyahu tries to calm outcry over Smotrich's call to 'wipe out' Huwara
Israeli Prime Minister sought to cool the international fury around finance minister Bezalel Smotrich's remarks, who had called for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be 'wiped out'.
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Netanyahu is trying to lower the temperature following his finance minister's incendiary remarks [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought on Sunday to soften international outcry over a call by his extremist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be "erased", saying those remarks had been "inappropriate".

But Netanyahu also pushed back against the censure of Smotrich, accusing foreign powers of playing down Palestinian violence. 

Smotrich said last week that while he opposed vigilantism, he believed "that Huwara needs to be erased" by Israel, following a rampage by illegal settlers who set fire to cars and homes, and killed one Palestinian. 

The US State Department called the comments "irresponsible," "repugnant" and "disgusting" and said Netanyahu should reject and disavow them.

The UN human rights chief said Smotrich had made "an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence".

With Israeli media speculating that Smotrich, who is due to visit Washington next week, would be snubbed by the US administration and complicate its ties to the Netanyahu government, he offered a retraction on Saturday but no apology.

"Being upset, I misspoke," Smotrich told Channel 12 TV.

The Palestinians have urged the US administration not to receive Smotrich. Netanyahu has said that he - and not coalition partners like Smotrich - calls the shots on Israeli diplomacy.

"It is important for all of us to work to tone down the rhetoric, lower the temperature," Netanyahu tweeted on Sunday, thanking Smotrich "for making clear that his choice of words ... was inappropriate".

"I am still waiting to hear a condemnation from the Palestinian Authority for the murder of the Yaniv brothers," Netanyahu added, referencing two Israelis killed by Palestinians in reponse to an Israeli massacre in the city of Nablus. "And Israel is waiting for the international community to insist that the PA condemn that attack. Not only has it not done so, it continues to turn a blind eye to the PA's rampant incitement."

At least 62 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed since the start of 2023, according to the Palestinian health ministry.