SAN FRANCISCO,November 17 : US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on Israel to take “urgent” action to stop settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Blinken, in San Francisco for an Asia-Pacific summit, made the plea in a telephone call with Benny Gantz, an opposition leader who joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime cabinet.
Blinken “stressed the urgent need for affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, including by confronting rising levels of settler extremist violence,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
On the war front, Blinken with Gantz “discussed efforts to augment and accelerate the transit of critical humanitarian assistance into Gaza,” Miller said.
Blinken also spoke to Gantz about ongoing diplomacy to free hostages seized by Hamas militants when they launched a major raid into Israel on October 7 from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials say around 240 people were taken hostage during the Hamas attacks, which killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Since then, Hamas government officials say Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive have killed more than 11,500 people, also mostly civilians and including thousands of children.
Unlike the Gaza Strip, which is under Hamas control, the West Bank is largely under Israeli occupation with limited autonomy by the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders are enemies of Hamas.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank say they have faced increased harassment from Israeli settlers since the war began.
Gantz, a centrist retired general, agreed to enter a wartime cabinet with Netanyahu who had returned to power in a coalition with far-right parties that staunchly back Jewish settlement of the West Bank.
The United States has backed Israel’s right to respond to Hamas but has also called for greater efforts to spare civilians.
“We have seen far too many Palestinian civilians killed and we have been urging Israel all along to do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties,” Blinken told NBC News on Thursday.