U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived Monday in Israel at a fraught moment in its turbulent relations with Palestinians and immediately sought to ease tensions after a recent outbreak of violence.
As he arrived in Tel Aviv after a brief stop in Egypt, Blinken condemned recent Palestinian attacks targeting Israeli citizens but also called for restraint in the Israeli response, saying all civilian casualties are unacceptable.
"To take an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime but to target people outside their place of worship is especially shocking," he said, referring to an attack last Friday that killed seven people, many of whom were leaving a Jerusalem synagogue.
"We condemn it in the strongest terms," he said. "We condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take civilian lives no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer. And acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified."
The newest violence erupted last week when the Israeli military raided a militant stronghold in the West Bank city of Jenin and killed 10 people, most of them militants. It was followed by the killing of seven Israelis in Jerusalem.
Blinken called the latest attacks "a new and horrifying surge in violence."
"It is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions, rather than to inflame them,” he said. “That is the only way to halt the rising tide of violence that has taken too many lives, too many Israelis, too many Palestinians.”
Shortly before Blinken's arrival for the two-day visit, the Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man in the flashpoint city of Hebron, bringing the toll of Palestinians killed in January to 35.
The violence rose in January in the first weeks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which has pledged to take a tough stance against Palestinians and boost settlement construction in the Israeli-occupied territories.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s narrowly elected government has promised to assert more control over Israel’s judiciary, raising concerns by critics that it will imperil the country’s democratic norms. Some Middle East analysts say the new Israeli government is the most right-wing and most religious in the Jewish state’s history.
Blinken is slated to meet later Monday with Netanyahu to discuss his agenda. The scheduled talks come after an Iranian military facility was hit by a drone attack that senior U.S. intelligence officials said was the work of the Mossad, Israel’s premier intelligence agency.
Blinken is also scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and other Palestinian officials in Ramallah in the West Bank.