US conveys condolences for Israelis killed in terror attack

US calls to bring ‘extremist settlers’ to justice for attacks against Palestinians

In a call between national security advisers, White House expresses ‘deep concern’ over situation in West Bank, urges Israel to halt planned settlement expansions

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)
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)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan conveyed Washington’s condolences to Israel for the killings of four Israelis in a Palestinian terror attack on Tuesday near the West Bank settlement of Eli, and its “deep concern” over a series of settler reprisal attacks against Palestinian towns and villages since the shooting three days ago.

In a call on Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Sullivan emphasized the Biden administration’s “unwavering support for Israel’s security, as well as its right to defend its people” against terrorist groups.

However, he “expressed deep concern over the recent extremist settler attacks against Palestinian civilians and the destruction of their property in the West Bank,” according to a US readout of the conversation.

Sullivan also “reiterated the importance of holding accountable those responsible for such acts of violence,” the statement read.

Sullivan also urged “additional steps to restore calm and de-escalate tensions, and called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions, including settlement activity, that further inflame tensions.”

Israeli and US National Security Advisers Tzahi Hanegbi (right) and Jake Sullivan speak with their UAE and Bahrain counterparts via video from Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The statement also said that Sullivan updated Hanegbi “on broader regional issues including efforts to enhance Israel’s integration into the region,” and US President Joe Biden’s  “iron-clad commitment that Iran will never be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

There was no immediate readout from Israel.

The call comes amid growing international pressure on Israel to prevent settler violence, and also to halt stepped-up settlement construction, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government moving to authorize thousands of homes and authorize several currently illegal outposts. Settlers have also set up several new wildcat outposts in recent days.

Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (second left) with settlement leaders at the Evyatar outpost in the West Bank, June 24, 2023 (Twitter screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing earlier Friday that Washington has been “clear and consistent that we do not support additional settlement activity,” and that the Biden administration’s position on settlements “will not change.”

The northern West Bank has been rocked by days of intense rioting by settlers carrying out reprisal attacks following the shooting deaths of four people Tuesday in a terror attack at the nearby settlement of Eli.

Hours after the attack, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, including Huwara, the scene of another deadly settler riot earlier this year after a terror attack, burning cars and fields and stoning homes.

The next day, hundreds of settlers, many of them armed, also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif, setting homes, cars and fields on fire and terrorizing residents. Confrontations erupted between Israeli security forces trying to disperse the settlers and Palestinian residents who hurled stones and fireworks, killing a 27-year-old Palestinian and wounding at least a dozen others.

One Palestinian — 27-year-old Omar Qattin — was killed in unclear circumstances in Turmus Ayya. Despite surveillance footage apparently showing Jewish Israelis opening fire in the town, a defense source told The Times of Israel on Friday that Israeli security authorities were unaware of gunfire by settlers during the rioting.

On Friday, US officials and European dignitaries visited Turmus Ayya to show solidarity with residents attacked by the settlers in the deadly rampage on Wednesday.

An international delegation examines a torched building as they tour the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, days after a rampage by Jewish settlers, Friday, June 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The town has a significant population of dual Palestinian-American nationals. Many of them live abroad but pay visits to the central West Bank town during the summers, including individuals who were targeted by settlers on Wednesday.

Qattin had permanent residency status in the US and members of his family have American citizenship, two US officials told The Times of Israel.

In his briefing Friday, Kirby noted that some of the Palestinian victims of settler attacks were US citizens and that consular officials would be ready to provide assistance.

“We condemn all acts of violence. Violence isn’t helping reduce tension,” said Kirby. “Leadership is required.”

The Israeli military has condemned the attacks, stressing that the settler violence made it harder for the army to focus on its main mission — protecting Israeli civilians.

Netanyahu on Wednesday denounced the rioting in a statement that also addressed unrelated clashes in the Golan Heights, calling on Israelis to obey the law.

His government’s official response has been to announce the impending authorization of 1,000 new homes in Eli.

It also gave the go-ahead to retroactively legalize two illegal outposts near Eli. That came on top of another outpost in the area already set to be approved at a Monday meeting where authorities are expected to authorize some 5,800 homes across the West Bank.

The international community has stridently condemned both the moves to ramp up settlement activity and the settler violence, putting Netanyahu’s government on a collision course with the US and Europe and risking hard-won steps toward regional normalization.

US officials expressed concern to The Times of Israel this week that Netanyahu has lost control of his coalition, as its far-right elements were veering the country away from the premier’s stated goal of expanding the Abraham Accords.

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