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Gantz heading to US this week for meeting with Pentagon chief

Defense minister to hold talks with Lloyd Austin in Washington on Thursday, before meeting with Jewish communities in New York and Miami

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will head to the US this week for a meeting with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, his office said Sunday.

Gantz will take off on Wednesday and is slated to meet with the Pentagon chief the next morning (around 3 p.m. Thursday Israel time) in Washington. His office did not elaborate on the nature of the meeting.

The upcoming meeting comes as tensions between Israel and the US are high, amid an investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — who was shot last week while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin — as well as the violence seen at her funeral on Friday.

After meeting Austin, the defense minister is slated to sit down with bereaved families and other members of the Jewish community in New York and Miami, according to a schedule published by Gantz’s office.

Gantz last met with Austin at the Pentagon in December, and the two discussed bilateral ties, the Iranian threat, and Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the family of the slain Al Jazeera reporter as Israel faced a wave of international criticism following the behavior of Israeli police at her funeral.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has charged that Israel “executed” Abu Akleh. Israeli officials, including Gantz, at first said it was likely Palestinian gunmen had mistakenly shot her, but later said errant Israeli sniper fire could also possibly have caused her death.

Israel is insisting that it cannot definitively determine who shot her without examining the bullet removed from her neck, Channel 12 news reported Friday, adding that Israel has asked the US for assistance in persuading the Palestinian Authority to cooperate.

At her funeral on Friday, police officers charged Palestinians who were holding and surrounding the casket and beat them with batons, nearly toppling the coffin.

Police have claimed that the casket was seized by a mob against the family’s wishes outside Jerusalem’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, prompting the cops’ intervention. Abu Akleh’s brother, however, said the family and mourners had hoped to hold a “small procession,” but were “bombarded” by officers as they left the hospital.

Blinken earlier said he was “deeply troubled” by the actions of Israeli police, and the State Department urged a transparent investigation into her killing.

Protesters hold candles and a photo of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in Jenin, on May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit)

Meanwhile, negotiations between Iran and world powers over restoring a frayed 2015 nuclear deal have been stalled since mid-March, reportedly over Iran’s demand that Washington delist its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a US terror list — a demand that the US has rejected.

According to recent reports, Israeli officials have recently indicated that the US administration is closer than ever to admitting defeat on President Joe Biden’s stated goal of returning to the 2015 deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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