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In Jordan, Kerry urges Palestinians, Israelis to ease tensions

In Amman meeting, PA leader Abbas tells top US diplomat Washington should intervene in Israeli-Palestinian deadlock

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on February 21, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. (US State Department)
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on February 21, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. (US State Department)

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas Sunday and discussed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the US State Department said.

Since October 1, Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks have taken the lives of 28 Israelis, an American, an Eritrean and a Palestinian.

At the same time, 176 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police, soldiers or civilians, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks against Israelis and the remainder during clashes and demonstrations.

“The secretary continued to urge for calm and a decrease in violence, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The latest victim of the Palestinian wave of violence was Tuvia Yanai Weissman, a 21-year-old off-duty IDF soldier who was stabbed to death by two Palestinian teenagers in a West Bank supermarket on Thursday.

Tuvia Yanai Weissman with his wife Yael and four-month-old daughter. Weissman was stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorists at a West Bank supermarket on February 18, 2016. (Facebook)
Tuvia Yanai Weissman with his wife Yael and four-month-old daughter. Weissman was stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorists at a West Bank supermarket on February 18, 2016. (Facebook)

The killing of Weissman, a dual US-Israeli citizen, drew harsh condemnation from Washington Friday.

“There is no justification for terrorism,” a statement from the State Department read. “This horrific incident again underscores the need for all sides to reject violence, and urgently take steps to restore calm, reduce tensions, and bring an immediate end to the violence.”

Kerry was in Jordan where he also met King Abdullah II, a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, in the southern port of Aqaba.

A palace statement said the king stressed “the need for the international community and the United States first, to end the stalemate in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis and to move towards a two-state solution.”

American diplomats said Kerry and Abdullah also discussed the Syrian conflict.

Kirby said Kerry had stressed to Abbas Washington’s commitment to seeking a sustainable two-state solution “and to working with all parties to that end.”

“He also reiterated our policy on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements,” Kirby said.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in April 2014 and the prospects of fresh dialogue have appeared increasingly remote.

Some analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, the lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest.

On Thursday, the Palestinians welcomed an initiative put forward by France for an international Middle East peace conference, a proposal which Israel’s government has dismissed.

During their meeting, Abbas asked Kerry that the US intervene in the political deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians.

On the sidelines of Syrian peace talks in the Jordanian capital, Abbas also urged Kerry to demand that Israel free Palestinian hunger-striker Mohammed al-Qiq, and return the bodies of dead Palestinian attackers, according to Israeli and Palestinian reports citing PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Al-Qiq, on a three-month hunger strike to protest his detention without charge, is currently being held in an Afula hospital, with Israel refusing to release him to a medical center in the West Bank. His administrative detention is technically over, however. Israeli officials say he was held over links to terror activity.

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Rudeineh said Abbas updated Kerry on his efforts to form a unity government with Hamas.

Abbas told Kerry of his intention to request that the UN Security Council condemn Israel’s settlement enterprise and halt its settlement construction in the West Bank.

The meeting with Abbas, during a meeting in Amman convened to broker a halt in Syrian fighting, came days after France informed UN Security Council member states of its intention to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts later this year.

According to a report by Channel 2 on Friday, the initiative seeks to broker direct negotiations between the two sides at an international peace conference scheduled for July that would include representatives from the Middle East Quartet — the US, Russia, EU and UN — and several Arab states.

France also warned that if efforts to revive the peace efforts fail, it would recognize a Palestinian state.

Palestinian officials welcomed the French proposal, but the conference idea has not been generating enthusiasm in the international community, which is struggling to cope with far deadlier Middle East conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week dismissed the nascent French initiative as “baffling” and destined for failure.

Washington, which has traditionally acted as a peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has not taken a public position on the French plan. However, the Obama administration has recently indicated it does believe there is a possibility of achieving a peace accord in its remaining time in office.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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