US 'disturbed' by Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in West Bank
Austin held talks in Tel Aviv after Israeli forces shot dead three Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and protesters rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's extreme-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 also 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 suspected Palestinian militants 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".
The ministry of health says that 78 Palestinians have been killed so far this year, including 14 children.
Thirteen Israeli adults and children have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.