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US Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Calm Tensions Ahead of Biden Visit

By Margaret Besheer June 27, 2022

The United States expressed concern Monday about "palpable and dangerous" tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, ahead of a visit next month by President Joe Biden to the region.

"We once again call on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that increase tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence and evictions," the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Mills, told a meeting of the Security Council on the issue of Israeli settlements.

Biden will visit Israel and the West Bank and then continue to Saudi Arabia from July 13 through July 16.

The White House says the president plans to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss that country's "security, prosperity, and its increasing integration into the greater region." Biden will also visit the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority officials.

Mills said that during the trip, Biden will "urge calm and explore ways to promote equal measures of security, freedom and opportunity for both Israelis and Palestinians."

U.S.-Palestinian relations hit a low in 2020, when the Trump administration unveiled its Middle East peace plan. The Palestinians rejected it outright, saying it heavily favored Israel and did not give them a sovereign, contiguous state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Trump administration also moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, angering the Palestinians. Biden has criticized that move but has not reversed it.

The United Nations says violence has increased in recent months in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel. Since mid-March, the U.N. says 49 Palestinians, including several children, have been killed in demonstrations and clashes with Israeli forces, while 11 Israelis and three foreign nationals have been killed in attacks inside Israel.

"As events over recent months have demonstrated yet again, managing the conflict in perpetuity is not a viable option," Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the council from Jerusalem. "There is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict."

Palestinian-American journalist's death

Biden is also likely to face questions from Palestinian officials about the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed May 11 while covering an Israeli operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. Abu Akleh was also a U.S. citizen.

The U.N. office for human rights said Friday that information it had gathered was "consistent with the finding" that Abu Akleh was killed by fire from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as Israeli authorities initially claimed. The U.N. rights office said its monitors also found no information suggesting activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of Abu Akleh and her colleagues.

"We, like others on this council, are concerned with the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh," Mills told the Security Council. "We continue to stress the importance of accountability for Abu Akleh's tragic death. The United States will not relent on our calls for transparent accountability for those responsible for this tragedy until justice is done."

Asked last week by a reporter if Biden would raise Abu Akleh's killing during his trip to Israel, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration wants her death "fully investigated," and the president would not be "bashful" about raising human rights and press freedom issues "with any foreign leader anywhere in the world."

VOA's Anita Powell contributed to this story.

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