US Defense Secy urges Israel to de-escalate tensions in West Bank

by IANS |

Jerusalem, March 10 (IANS) Visiting US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has urged Israel to de-escalate tensions in the occupied West Bank.

He made the remarks shortly after his meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant at the Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on Thursday, reports Xinhua news agency.

"As we always have, we're calling on the Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism and to resume security cooperation and to condemn incitement," Austin said at joint press conference with Gallant held after the meeting.

"But the US also remains firmly opposed to any acts that could trigger more insecurity, including settlement expansion and inflammatory rhetoric. And we're especially disturbed by violence by settlers against Palestinians," he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the US Defense Department.

Austin was talking about Israeli settlers' attacks against Palestinians and their property lately, which peaked during a rampant attack by around 350 settlers on Hawara and other Palestinian towns near Nablus.

The settlers torched dozens of Palestinian homes, cars, shops and livestock, and one Palestinian man was reportedly killed.

He called for immediate action to implement Israeli commitments for calm during a high-level meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, on February 26.

Netanyahu, for his part, issued a separate statement saying that "our conversation focused primarily on our joint efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons".

Tensions between Israel and the Palestine have escalated in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year.

Official figures have showed that more than 70 Palestinians have been killed this year so far, while 14 Israelis have been killed in attacks carried out by Palestinians.

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