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Israel, EU Should 'Reset' Ties, Netanyahu Says

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to members of the foreign media during the annual toast for the new year in Jerusalem, Jan. 14, 2016.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to members of the foreign media during the annual toast for the new year in Jerusalem, Jan. 14, 2016.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the European Union on Thursday of holding his country to a double standard, and he reserved special criticism for Sweden, saying its call to investigate Israel in the deaths of Palestinian attackers was "immoral" and "stupid."

"There is a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with, and especially other democracies," he told a gathering of foreign journalists.

Netanyahu said ties needed to be "reset" — an acknowledgment that things were bad — but he did not propose steps to improve them.

Israel has been at odds with the EU over its decision to require labeling of exports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In November, Israel suspended contact with EU bodies involved in peace efforts with Palestinians, though Netanyahu said bilateral ties with nearly all EU countries were strong.

Relations with Sweden, however, have deteriorated since it recognized Palestinian statehood last year, and Netanyahu lambasted a call by the Swedish foreign minister to investigate whether Israeli forces were guilty of extrajudicial killings of Palestinian attackers.

"It's outrageous, it's immoral and it's stupid," Netanyahu said. "People are defending themselves against assailants wielding knives who are about to stab them to death, and they shoot the people — and that's extrajudicial killings?"

Fears of wider violence

Rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force to quell a surge in attacks, which has raised fears of wider confrontation, a decade after the last Palestinian uprising subsided.

Israeli soldiers on Thursday shot dead a Palestinian who had tried to stab one of them near the West Bank city of Hebron. In a separate incident near the town of Nablus, soldiers killed a man after he slashed and wounded an army officer, the army said.

That brought the number of Palestinians killed since October 1 to at least 145. Israel says 93 of these were assailants, while most of the others died in clashes with Israeli security forces.

In the same period, Palestinian attacks with knives, guns or cars have killed 24 Israelis and a U.S. citizen.

The wave of attacks has been partly fueled by Palestinian frustration over the collapse of peace talks, the growth of Jewish settlements on land they seek for a future state and Islamist calls for the destruction of Israel.

Also stoking the violence has been Muslim agitation at stepped-up Jewish visits to a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said pre-emptive raids and arrests had prevented the violence from escalating into an armed Palestinian revolt, and he predicted that the grass-roots violence would stop.

"We are managing to foil plans by the organizations, the terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to carry out attacks. If it were up to them, there would be suicide bombings and gun attacks here every day," Yaalon told Israel Radio.

"The fact that we are succeeding lends salience to the attempted stabbing or car-ramming attacks," he said. "We will also prevail over this phenomenon, I say, but this is a process that takes time. Statistically, we see a waning of this."

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