US urges Israel to avoid ‘escalating tensions’ after attack

US urges Israel to avoid ‘escalating tensions’ after attack

As Jerusalem announces slew of security measures, State Department says it should also consider ‘the impact on Palestinian civilians’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The US State Department called on Israel on Thursday to take into account “the impact on Palestinian civilians” in its response to Wednesday’s terror attack at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, in which four people were killed and 16 injured, three of them seriously.

Spokesman Mark Toner was responding to questions about a slew of measures announced by the Israeli security cabinet in the wake of the attack.

The measures agreed upon at the cabinet meeting included revoking work permits from family members of the terrorists and canceling all permits for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to visit Israel during the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would stop returning the bodies of Palestinian attackers to their families for burial.

Toner called on Israel to respond to the shooting “would be designed to not escalate tensions any further, but we certainly respect their desire to express outrage and to protect the safety of their people.”

Israeli security forces at the scene where two terrorists opened fire at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene where two terrorists opened fire at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Pressed about the decision to withhold the bodies of attackers, he said that Israel “obviously should weigh” whether the steps it takes will exacerbate the conflict. Still, he said, “we understand” why Israel would adopt measures such as revoking entry permits and beefing up its presence in Palestinian areas.

“We understand the Israeli government’s desire to protect its citizens after this kind of terrorist attack and we strongly support that right, but we would hope that any measures it takes would also take into consideration the impact on Palestinian civilians who are just trying to go about their daily lives,” he said.

Earlier in his briefing, Toner said he condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms,” adding, “These kinds of attacks can never be justified.”

International condemnations poured in in the hours following the attack.

The European Union said in a statement that “Wednesday night’s terror attack in the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv exposed scores of innocent civilians and families to indiscriminate fire. Four people were killed and more seriously injured. Our thoughts are with the families of the dead and injured.”

“Those responsible for these murders must be brought to justice,” the EU continued. “Those who praise this attack must be condemned.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement denouncing the shooting that “there is no justification for terrorism nor for the glorification of those who commit such heinous acts.”

“The Secretary-General is shocked that the leaders of Hamas have chosen to welcome this attack and some have chosen to celebrate it,” Ban’s office said in a statement. “He calls upon the Palestinian leadership to live up to their responsibility to stand firmly against violence and the incitement that fuels it.”

Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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