WASHINGTON – US administration officials expressed concern Wednesday over the possibility that violence would continue to escalate following the murder of 16-year-old Muhammed Hussein Abu Khdeir, reiterating calls to both sides to avoid any actions that could further instability. At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that it was concern over the possibility of further violence that spurred Secretary of State John Kerry to release a strongly-worded statement condemning the kidnapping and murder of the east Jerusalem resident.
“Clearly, we’re deeply concerned about the violence on the ground, and that’s why the Secretary issued a statement this morning,” Psaki told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon.
“The Secretary’s statement this morning sent a very strong message from the United States that there has to be an alternative path forward, that violence is not the answer,” Psaki said. “We’ve been in touch with both sides to convey that strongly, as well. There’s no question there are strong emotions on the ground. That’s understandable, given the circumstances, but we’re encouraging parties to continue to cooperate on security measures and continue the dialogue as well.”
An Israeli official castigated Kerry for the strongly worded statement, which came hours after the death of Abu Khdeir, since it was issued before police had declared a motive for the crime.
Psaki later confirmed that in a conversation Wednesday morning between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kerry, Netanyahu reiterated that he had called for an investigation to find out who was responsible for the murder as soon as possible, that anyone who takes a life will be punished severely, and that he had publicly called for all sides not to take the law into their own hands.
Using similar language to Kerry’s ringing condemnation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the heinous murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Hussein Abu Khdeir.” Earnest said at the start of his daily press briefing that “we send our condolences to his family and to the Palestinian people.”
Earnest also addressed the ongoing confrontations, calling both on “the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take all necessary steps to prevent an atmosphere of revenge and retribution.”
“People who undertake acts of vengeance will only destabilize an already volatile and emotional situation,” he warned. Earnest also noted Netanyahu’s call for an immediate investigation to identify the perpetrators and their motives. “We hope to swiftly see the guilty parties brought to justice,” he emphasized.
Earnest said that the White House did not have an assessment as to who was responsible for the kidnapping and murder.
Although Congress is currently on its annual Fourth of July recess, members reiterated the administration’s warnings and response to Abu Khdeir’s murder.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) issued a statement Wednesday evening, saying “I join the Administration in condemning the murder of the innocent Palestinian teenager and calling for a thorough investigation of this horrible act. The unimaginable pain now felt by a fourth family should propel all the parties involved to deescalate tensions in the region.”
Lowey, like Earnest, Psaki and Kerry, warned that “no one will benefit from the continuation of senseless violence, which is why restoring calm must take priority going forward. Justice for all of the victims can only be served through the appropriate legal process.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) responded via Twitter, condemning what she described as “a revenge killing of Palestinian youth.” Ros-Lehtinen added “must allow Israeli authorities 2 find the perpetrators of this atrocity,” finishing her message with the hashtag #EyalGiladNaftali, used during the search for the three Israeli teens whose bodies were found on Monday.