Israel, Palestinians Await Blinken as Bloody Violence Spirals
US says its most senior diplomat would discuss ‘steps to de-escalate tensions’ after 7 people were killed in shooting attack outside Jerusalem synagogue on Friday night, a day after 9 Palestinians died in IDF raid in West Bank refugee camp
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to arrive in the Middle East on Sunday for a visit that includes Israel and the West Bank, on the heels of a particularly violent week that saw seven people murdered in a deadly attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday night, a day after nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in Jenin refugee camp.
Condemning Friday night’s “absolutely horrific” shooting attack “in the strongest terms,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told the media that the most senior American diplomat would be discussing “steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions” during his visit.
“Our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners,” Patel said. “We stand with the Israeli people in solidarity.”
The victims of the Friday night attack included a 14-year-old boy and a married couple who had dashed from their nearby home to help those who had already been shot by the gunman, a resident of East Jerusalem.
That attack was followed by a shooting on Saturday morning, when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem opened fire on an Israeli man and his soldier son close to the Old City, reportedly leaving one of the pair in critical condition. Police said the shooter was “neutralized and injured” by “two passersby carrying licensed weapons.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the site of the attack on Friday night and promised fierce retaliation. He held an emergency meeting of his security cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the Jewish sabbath, to discuss Israel’s response to the attacks.
“Yesterday’s terrorist attack against civilians in a synagogue during Shabbat evening prayer is an example of intelligence that the IDF, unfortunately, didn’t possess in order to conduct a ‘raid’ that would prevent this attack,” said IDF spokesman Maj. Nir Dinar. “Fortunately, on Thursday, the IDF, ISA [domestic security service also known as the Shin Bet] and Israel Police did have the required intelligence and neutralized the terrorists before they had the chance to kill innocent civilians.”
A 61-year-old Palestinian woman was among those killed during the IDF raid on Thursday. Later that day another Palestinian was shot dead north of Jerusalem, near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“What happened in Jerusalem was a response to the massacre in Jenin. The Palestinians were so angry, and although this was an individual act, it reflected very general anger among the Palestinian people,” Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a veteran politician, told The Media Line.
“This is the fascist most extreme government,” he said, referring to Israel’s new right-wing government. “Things are moving in the direction of a full explosion, Palestinians have to turn to the intifada, to resistance because nobody is going to protect them from this Israeli brutality.”
Israeli political analyst Eli Nesan, however, told The Media Line that the Palestinian Authority was the one that should shoulder most of the blame for the deterioration of the security situation. The PA announced an immediate suspension of security cooperation with Israel following the deaths in Jenin, despite reports of heavy US pressure to hold off on such a move.
“We see that the Palestinian Authority has lost control over the course of events in the northern West Bank, and I am surprised by the PA decision to hold Israel responsible for what happened on Friday,” Nesan said.
The Israeli analyst also pointed the finger at the Islamist Hamas organization that governs the Gaza Strip.
“There is a lot of incitement by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and on social networking sites, and this is like pouring gasoline on the fire. It would have been better for Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and his security forces to carry out security activity to impose their control instead of announcing the cessation of security coordination and instead of the Israeli forces doing so.”
The Israeli security cabinet meeting on Saturday was expected to discuss several punitive measures in response to the attacks, among them, expediting gun licenses for civilians and legislation to deport families of attackers, and deploying additional forces to the West Bank.
“There is no escape for the government other than to take such strict measures in order to put an end to what is happening. If the citizens had been armed on Friday, the result would not have been seven victims,” said Nesan.
But according to Barghouti, the Israeli government was culpable for the uptick in violence.
“The most recent Israeli measures in my opinion are a way for their side to save themselves from something that is a disaster,” he said. “Their policies are a disaster, they failed drastically, and I think even the Israeli public is very angry at them. They promised full security and brought only more victims and more suffering.”
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah announced that the PA had suspended security coordination with Israel at a press conference in Ramallah on Thursday evening.
“We consider the security coordination to no longer exist,” Abu Rudeinah said. He added that the PA would turn to the United Nations Security Council and International Criminal Court to hold Israel responsible and called for a delegation from a UN Human Rights Council to investigate the matter.
Tensions were further exacerbated overnight Thursday when seven rockets were fired at southern Israel from Gaza; four were intercepted and three landed in open areas, the Israeli security forces said.
Hours later, Israel Air Force jets struck targets in Gaza. There were no reports of casualties in either incident, but the scent of a new round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians was in the air.
Warning that violence begets violence, Barghouti accused Netanyahu and his far-right government for the escalation.
“This is a government headed by someone who personally was responsible for killing any potential and possibility of peace in this region,” he said of Netanyahu, who is now serving his sixth non-consecutive term as prime minister.
State Department officials on Thursday expressed concern about the security situation following the Jenin raid.
“There is the potential for things to worsen in security terms, in terms of protests or any other kind of kinetic action,” Barbara Leaf, the top State Department official for the region, told reporters on Thursday ahead of the synagogue shooting, adding that the department was in close touch with diplomatic and security personnel on the ground. She also urged the two sides to retain and even deepen security coordination.
Blinken’s trip, which includes Egypt as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories, will focus on the heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the war in Ukraine, the State Department said. One of the victims of Friday’s Jerusalem attack was a Ukrainian citizen, President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy said.
The secretary of state’s visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah gained new urgency after the latest wave of deadly violence, but expectations were low.
“I don’t expect anything from the visit of Mr. Blinken or the American administration. I think this administration cannot do much as long as it is totally biased to the Israeli side,” said Barghouti.
Nesan said Blinken would try to include Arab states “that have relations with Israel in order to restore calm and stability.”
The attack outside the synagogue drew widespread international condemnation, including from Israel’s Arab allies. The European Union, meanwhile, on Saturday urged Israel to only use lethal force as a “last resort.”