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US defence secretary urges Israel to address settler violence against Palestinians

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin also called for unity after controversial Israeli judicial overhaul
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin arrives for a meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels, on 16 June 2023 (AFP)

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Israel to address incidents of settler aggression towards Palestinian civilians, according to the Pentagon.

Austin spoke with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday.

He called on Gallant to “address extremist settler violence against Palestinian civilians and continue the Israeli Ministry of Defense's efforts to improve economic opportunities for Palestinians in the West Bank”.

According to the Pentagon, Austin made clear that the US commitment to Israel’s security is “steadfast and unwavering” and the Department of Defence is focused on initiatives that “deepen military cooperation.”

Austin also advocated for unity through political dialogue after the Israeli parliament on Monday passed the first bill of the Benjamin Netanyahu government's judicial overhaul plan.

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The "Reasonable Standard Law" was approved with a 64-to-0 vote. The new law abolishes Israel's "reasonableness standard", eliminating the Supreme Court's ability to block government decisions it deems unreasonable. It was met with protests all over Israel. 

"Austin underscored the United States' belief that broad consensus through political dialogue, especially in the coming weeks and months, are critical elements of a resilient democracy," the Pentagon said.

According to the Pentagon statement, Austin discussed the “urgent” need for Palestinian leaders to take steps to ensure stability in the West Bank, as well as "condemn terrorism and prevent violence".

Both leaders also discussed threats from Iran and agreed to work together to counter the threats, the Pentagon statement read.

Last month, Israeli settler gangs burned crops in the Palestinian town of Turmusaya, north of Ramallah, only days after the village was subjected to a rampage that left at least 3o houses and 70 vehicles on fire. 

More than 400 settlers stormed the village under the protection of the Israeli army, killing one Palestinian, Omar Jabara Abu Al-Qattin, 25. 

There was a spike of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians in June, with at least 85 such incidents recorded, prompting security officials in Israel to warn that the ongoing violence could lead to anarchy. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over increasing Israeli violence in the occupied West Bank affecting US citizens.

In a call with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in June, "Blinken underscored the need for all parties to work to further de-escalate the situation", according to a State Department spokesperson.

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