Blinken says US extremely concerned over settler violence

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The White House is extremely concerned about settler violence in the West Bank, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Tuesday.

Blinken also said in a call that Washington appreciates the condemnations of vigilante attacks expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cohen and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, but more must be done, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

A readout from the Foreign Ministry said that Cohen “completely condemned the incidents where [Israeli] citizens took the law into their own hands, and said the government would employ all means necessary.”

There was no immediate US readout of the conversation.

In the wake of a terror attack last Tuesday outside the Eli settlement that left four Israelis dead, hundreds of settlers rampaged inside Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, cars, and even opening fire in some cases, between Tuesday night and Saturday.

One Palestinian was killed last Wednesday in unclear circumstances.

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire set by settlers in the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, Wednesday, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including last week’s victims.

Earlier Tuesday, Gallant spoke with senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh regarding recent incidents in the West Bank, including settler attacks on Palestinians, his office said.

According to a readout from the Defense Ministry, Gallant told al-Sheikh — who holds the PA’s Civil Affairs portfolio — that Israel “views the violence used by extremist elements against Palestinian citizens in recent days with severity, and emphasized that Israel will work to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Cracks in the government over vigilante violence by Israelis were apparent during a Tuesday meeting called by Netanyahu to discuss the issue, according to Channel 13 news.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir told Gallant that his conversation with al-Sheikh was an “apology to a terrorist.”

“He’s a convicted terrorist who sat in prison for a decade and we are calling to make nice to him?” asked Ben Gvir.

“We must not act like our enemies and make the excuse that the Arabs are doing it, so we can too,” retorted Gallant.

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