John Kerry to meet Netanyahu, Abbas on Palestinian-Israeli unrest this week

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be meeting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas later this week.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be meeting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas later this week. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he would meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Germany this week, followed by talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas after more than two weeks of unrest between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is the first time Kerry has confirmed reports of a meeting with both Netanyahu and Abbas. He did not say where he planned to meet Abbas, saying only it would be in the Middle East.

"Later this week I will meet with prime minister Netanyahu because he will be in Germany... we will meet there. And then I will go the the region and I will meet with president Abbas, I will meet with King Abdullah (of Jordan) and others," he said in Paris.

He also said he would hold meetings on Syria while in Europe, but did not elaborate.

At least four Israeli cities, including the commercial capital Tel Aviv, have banned Arab labourers from their schools, struggling to calm public fears fuelled by the worst surge of Palestinian street attacks in years.

Israel's Interior Ministry, which oversees municipalities, declined immediate comment on Sunday on the decision, condemned by a party representing the country's Arab minority as racist.

Israel's cabinet also imposed more security measures on Sunday after further Palestinian stabbings on Saturday, widening police stop-and-frisk powers that will effectively allow them to search anyone on the street.

Forty-one Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in recent street violence, which was in part triggered by Palestinians' anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound.

"We are preserving the status quo, we will continue to do so," Netanyahu said in public remarks on Sunday to his cabinet, referring to the site that is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical temples.

The Palestinian dead include attackers wielding knives and protesters shot by Israeli forces during violent demonstrations.

The Israelis were killed in random attacks in the street or on buses, and with parents demanding swift action to safeguard schools, cities have added more armed guards at their gates and police have increased patrols.

Citing security concerns, Tel Aviv and the nearby cities of Rehovot and Hod Hasharon avoided using the word "Arab" in announcing on their websites and emails to residents that maintenance workers and cleaners - many of whom are Arabs - would not be allowed into schools.

Another city, Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, said "minority members" - a term Jews in Israel often use for Arab citizens who make up 20 per cent of the population of eight million - would be banned from working in its schools.

Dov Khenin, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, the largest Arab party, said on Israel Radio that "under cover of anxiety, dangerous measures of racist exclusion are being advanced".

Spokesmen for Tel Aviv and Rehovot insisted the ban would apply to Jews and Arabs alike.

But Doron Milberg, director-general of the municipality of Rehovot, acknowledged that Arabs would be most affected by the decision because "those who work construction ... are the minorities".

Two of the alleged assailants in attacks on Israelis over the past two weeks were Israeli Arabs. The others were Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel, which has poured hundreds of troops into its cities and set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, said that on Saturday four Palestinians were shot dead and a fifth seriously injured in thwarted knife attacks.

Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for an end to violence in the Holy Land, urging Israelis and Palestinians to take concrete steps to ease tensions.

"In this moment there is a need for much courage and much fortitude to say 'no' to hate and vendetta and make gestures of peace," he told tens of thousands of people after a Mass in St. Peter's Square.