US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday described a wave of Palestinian knife and car-ramming attacks as "acts of terrorism" that must be condemned as he held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on how to end the violence.
US Secretary of State condemns Palestinian attacks as 'acts of 'terrorism'
"The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and by extension does not pursue policies that would legitimize them," he said.
The bloodshed has been fuelled by Muslim agitation over increased Jewish visits to East Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound - Islam's third holiest site and also revered by Jews as the location of two biblical-era temples.
The Palestinians are also frustrated by the failure of decades of peace talks to deliver them an independent state.
At the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry said they would discuss ways to work together to restore calm in the region.
With U.S.-backed talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory frozen since early 2014, Netanyahu said there could be no peace while an "onslaught of terror" continued.
Shortly before Kerry and Netanyahu convened in Jerusalem, a Palestinian drove his car into three Israeli soldiers and a paramilitary border policeman along a road in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, injuring all four, the army said.
Israeli forces shot and wounded the driver.
"It is very clear to us that the terrorism, these acts of terrorism which have been taking place, deserve the condemnation that they are receiving," Kerry told reporters, with Netanyahu at his side.
"And today I express my complete condemnation for any act of terror that takes innocent lives and disrupts the day-to-day life of a nation."
Later, Kerry met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah in what he described afterwards as "a long and very constructive and serious conversation".
He gave no details of steps discussed with either Abbas or Netanyahu to end the violence, and there was no sign progress had been made.
"I know that the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in Gaza is, at this moment, very dire, that there are extraordinary concerns, obviously, about the violence," Kerry told reporters.
Eighty-six Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 1, some while carrying out assaults and others in clashes with Israeli forces. Many of them were teenagers. Nineteen Israelis and an American have been killed in the Palestinian attacks.
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of using excessive force to quell attacks, saying that in many cases assailants could have been stopped and detained without being shot and killed. They have also described the violence as a consequence of Israel's occupation and related policies.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas brought up those matters with Kerry.
At a news briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to discuss "confidence-building measures" that he said the United States wanted the two sides to take, and stressed that it was not changing its policy of opposing Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories.
Asked about media reports that Israel expected recognition of its building activities in existing settlements in exchange for issuing building permits for Palestinians, Toner said: "As to ... those reports, I can be very clear that we're not changing ... the decades-old U.S. policy regarding settlements."
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