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West Bank violence: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin expresses concern, flags 'inflammatory rhetoric'

New DelhiEdited By: Harshit SabarwalUpdated: Mar 10, 2023, 12:01 AM IST
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File photo of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photograph:(AFP)

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Austin was supposed to arrive in Israel on Wednesday (March 8) after meeting Egyptian President  Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

On Thursday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin who is on a visit to Israel expressed concerns amid recent violence against Palestinians by Jewish settlers and warned that such acts could trigger more insecurity. 

"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 defence secretary.

Austin held talks in Israel as flaring violence killed three suspected Palestinian militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and thousands of demonstrators rallied against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government.

Austin earlier delayed his visit to Israel which is witnessing massive protests against the government's plan to overhaul the country's judicial system. He was supposed to arrive in Israel on Wednesday (March 8) after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo. However, he arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday and is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant near the Ben Gurion Airport, according to a report by the Al-Monitor. 

Earlier, a US official, who did not wish to be identified said, that Washington was concerned that escalating tensions in West Bank could distract Israel and US' attention from Iranian activities. "Secretary Austin is perfectly capable of having conversations about both issues (West Bank and Iran)," the official told the news agency Reuters. 

However, the official said that Israel’s preoccupation with the West Bank "detracts from our ability to focus on what the strategic threat is right now and that is Iran's dangerous nuclear advances and continuing regional and global aggression."

"Austin is committed to Israel's security, but one of the dominant ways in which we've been able to work together and strengthen that relationship is because we're two democracies that share values," the official further told Reuters, adding, one of those values included the right to protest.

The US defence secretary's visit to Israel comes as three Palestinian men were shot dead by the Israeli forces in West Bank on Thursday. The men were shot in Jaba, near the flashpoint northern city of Jenin. The Palestinian health ministry identified them as Sufyan Fakhoury, 26, Ahmed Fashafsha, 22, and Nayef Malaysha, 25, the news agency AFP reported. 

This attack comes a day after the United Nations urged Israel and Palestine to "immediately" end violence. In a statement, UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said on Wednesday, "We are in the midst of a cycle of violence that must be stopped immediately."

"The Security Council has spoken with one voice, calling on the parties to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric," Wennesland added. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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