US President Barack Obama has called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to tamp down inflammatory rhetoric expressing concern about the outbreak of violence centered in Jerusalem.
Obama’s statement comes amid mounting clashes in Israel and the Palestinian territories that have raised fears of a full-scale uprising.
“We are very concerned about the outbreak of violence,” Obama said at a news conference with visiting South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms violence directed against innocent people, and believe that Israel has a right to maintain basic law and order and protect its citizens from knife attacks, and violence on the streets,” he added.
“We also believe that it’s important for both Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and Israeli elected officials, and President Abbas and other people in positions of power, to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding,” he said.
Fresh protests erupted on Friday after Palestinians torched Joseph’s Tomb, a site revered by Jews in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The arson came as Palestinians called for a “Friday of revolution” against Israel, and police barred men under 40 from attending the main weekly prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, seeking to keep young protesters away.
At least seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in the violence so far, while 37 Palestinians have died and hundreds more been wounded in clashes.
“Over time, the only way that Israel is going to be truly secure, and the only way the Palestinians will be able to meet the aspirations of their people, is if they are two states living side by side in peace and security,” Obama said.
But right now, he said, “everybody needs to focus on making sure that innocent people aren’t being killed.”
Meanwhile US secretary of state John Kerry, in Milan as part of a European tour, called Netanyahu on Friday to discuss “how best to end the recent wave of violence, and to offer US support for efforts to restore calm as soon as possible,” a State Department official said.
On Thursday Kerry called Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and “reiterated the importance of avoiding further violence and preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations and actions that will increase tensions,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kerry also said he “hoped to visit the region at the appropriate moment.”
Netanyahu and Kerry are planning to meet in Berlin next week, according to US and Israeli officials, although the exact details have yet to be confirmed.