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Pompeo says Israel has right to defence, as Gazans mourn dozens killed in protests

New US secretary of state urges Palestinians to return to the negotiations table
Mike Pompeo wrapped up a hastily arranged Middle East tour on Monday (AFP)

Newly appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday refused to criticise Israel for shooting hundreds of protesters in the Gaza Strip, saying Washington was "fully supportive" of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Pompeo said during a trip to neighbouring Jordan that "Israelis have a right to defend themselves and we're fully supportive of that". 

US President Donald Trump’s top diplomat also urged the Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations, saying Washington remained open to a two-state solution.

We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state

Since 30 March Israeli forces have repeatedly fired upon protestors along the barrier separating Israel from the Gaza Strip, who have been holding weekly Friday demonstrations dubbed the "Great March of Return".

Nearly 50 Palestinians have been shot dead, with some 2,000 more wounded by gunfire, drawing condemnation from the United Nations and human rights groups.

There have been no Israeli casualties.

Nearly 50 Gazans have died in four weeks of protests near Israel's 'security fence' (Reuters)

In his remarks at a news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, Pompeo called the two-state solution a "likely outcome", and insisted resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict remained a priority for the Trump administration.

Safadi said Jordan believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the “main cause of instability in the region”, calling the two-state solution the “only path” to peace.

Pompeo was concluding his hastily arranged tour of the region in Jordan Monday, after weekend trips to other US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Pompeo called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiations table.

"The parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is," he said.

"We certainly believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians need to have political engagement," Pompeo added.

"We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue."

The former director of the CIA, who was approved as secretary of state by US Congress last week, has met no Palestinian officials on his tour.

The Iranian question

Discussions in Riyadh and Tel Aviv have centred on Iran, as Trump contemplates pulling the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

On Sunday, Pompeo lambasted Iranian influence in the Middle East, describing it as “destabilising and malign activity”.

Iran was seeking to dominate the region through its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, he said.

Iran rejected this on Monday, saying Pompeo’s assertions were “unfounded”.

“The US secretary of state’s remarks on the presence and role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in certain countries in the region are a repetition of absurd and unfounded accusations,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said in a statement.

Overnight missile strikes on air bases in Syria killed at least 26 pro-Assad fighters, including Iranians, a war monitor said Monday. Iran has denied any of its forces in Syria were hit in the latest strikes.

Israel “probably” was behind the attack, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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