JERUSALEM, March 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin urged Israel to de-escalate tensions in the occupied West Bank during his visit to Israel on Thursday.
He made the remarks shortly after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant at the Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv.
"As we always have, we're calling on the Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism and to resume security cooperation and to condemn incitement," Austin told a joint press conference held with Gallant after the meeting.
"But the United States also remains firmly opposed to any acts that could trigger more insecurity, including settlement expansion and inflammatory rhetoric. And we're especially disturbed by violence by settlers against Palestinians," he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the U.S. Defense Department.
Austin was talking about Israeli settlers' attacks against Palestinians and their property lately, which peaked during a rampant attack by around 350 settlers on Hawara and other Palestinian towns near Nablus. The settlers torched dozens of Palestinian homes, cars, shops and livestock, and one Palestinian man was reportedly killed.
He called for immediate action to implement Israeli commitments for calm during a high-level meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, on Feb. 26.
Netanyahu, for his part, issued a separate statement saying that "our conversation focused primarily on our joint efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."
The tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been escalating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year. Official Palestinian and Israeli figures showed that more than 70 Palestinians have been killed this year so far, while 14 Israelis have been killed in attacks carried out by Palestinians. ■