US ambassador says Israeli actions not excessive

US ambassador says Israeli actions not excessive

Envoy appears to walk back State Department statements; German FM also backs Israel’s right to defend citizens

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on October 21, 2013. (Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on October 21, 2013. (Flash90)

Washington does not view Israel’s recent actions to curb Palestinian violence as excessive and supports Israel right to defend its citizens, US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said Friday.

Shapiro made the statement during an interview on Israel Radio, after Israeli officials expressed indignation at what they viewed as a suggestion by a State Department spokesperson that Israel was using too much force against Palestinians.

“The United States does not view Israeli actions as excessive,” Shapiro said. “We recognize the Israeli government’s right and responsibility to defend its citizens.”

Asked whether the US considered the shooting of knife-wielding persons intent on stabbing passersby to be excessive, Shapiro said: “We have always supported and continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself. There is no justification, there is no excuse whatsoever for these outrageous attacks. They present a difficult situation to deal with.”

Shapiro added that the United States “never suggested Israel changed the status quo” at the Temple Mount — a claim that is fueling some Palestinian violence toward Israelis in the recent spate of attacks.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that although Israel “has a right and responsibility to protect” its citizens, “we’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force.”

In answer to a reporter’s question, Kirby said that the status quo on the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, “has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”

Shortly thereafter, Kirby walked back that statement, tweeting: “I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken.”

Kirby’s statement on excessive force prompted Gilad Erdan, Israel’s interior security minister, to accuse the State Department of “hypocrisy” and demand the US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to distance themselves from Kirby’s words and “clarify the US position.”

Also Friday German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Israel had “every right to protect its population against attacks,” according to Deutsche Textservice Nachrichtenagentur, or DTS, a German news agency.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Jerusalem, which expanded in the past few days to several cities in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza and has led to numerous deaths and injuries on the Israeli and Palestinian side,” Steinmeier was quoted by DTS as saying.

“It is terrible that people have to live in constant fear of becoming victims of indiscriminate violence on the streets. All violent criminals must be prosecuted.

“Israel has every right to protect its population against attacks. Both sides now need to avoid anything that further fuels tensions…We need to re-enter into a political process, which provides a perspective on a sustainable solution to the conflict,” DTS quoted Steinmeier as saying.

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