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John Kerry 'cautiously optimistic' after talks with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu

Published 22/10/2015

An Israeli man cleans blood stains at the scene of a stabbing attack in Beit Shemesh, central Israel (AP)
An Israeli man cleans blood stains at the scene of a stabbing attack in Beit Shemesh, central Israel (AP)

US secretary of state John Kerry has expressed a "cautious measure of optimism" after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about proposals to help defuse the deadly wave of recent violence in Israel.

Mr Kerry told reporters after the four-hour meeting that he planned to raise the proposals with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah in a meeting on Saturday in Jordan's capital, Amman.

"I come directly from several hours of conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I would characterise that conversation as one that gave me a cautious measure of optimism that there may be some things that may be in the next couple of days put on the table which would have an impact - I hope," he said.

"I don't want to be excessive in stating that, but I am cautiously encouraged."

Before their talks, both Mr Kerry and Mr Netanyahu condemned the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Mr Kerry urged an end to all incitement and violence. Mr Netanyahu repeated earlier accusations that Mr Abbas was to blame, saying the Palestinian leader was "spreading lies" about Israel and the status of the holy site at the centre of the tensions.

"There is no question this wave of attacks is driven directly by incitement, incitement by Hamas, incitement from the Islamist movement in Israel and incitement, I am sorry to say, from President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority," Mr Netanyahu told Mr Kerry.

"I think it is time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas to stop spreading lies about Israel," he said. "Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque, lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All of that is false."

Mr Netanyahu, however, has himself infuriated Palestinians by comments about a former Palestinian leader inspiring Hitler's Holocaust.

He said Israel was committed to keeping the status quo at the Jerusalem site, known to Jewish people as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and home to the biblical temples. For Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam and a national symbol for the Palestinians. The site, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mid-east war, is a frequent flashpoint of violence.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to change the status quo at the site, which allows Jewish people to visit but not to pray. They point to a growing number of Jewish visitors who seek an expanded Jewish presence and prayer rights at the site.

Mr Netanyahu rejected those claims and said ending incitement was the only way to ease tensions.

"To generate hope, we have to stop the terrorism," he said. "To stop the terrorism, we have to stop the incitement and I think it's time the international community told President Abbas to stop the incitement and hold him accountable for his words and his deeds."

Mr Kerry did not single out Mr Abbas for blame. But he also did not address Mr Netanyahu's Holocaust comments.

"We have to stop the incitement, we have to stop the violence," he said. Mr Kerry said he had spoken to Mr Abbas and Abdullah, who is charged with overseeing the Jerusalem site, in the past day and both assured them of their commitment to calm.

"I believe people want this to de-escalate," he said.

Mr Kerry added that these conversations would be "very important to settle on the steps that can be taken beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric" to end the violence.

He has said he wants clarity about the status quo at the site, but officials say he does not believe that needs to be in writing.

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