Gulf states condemn Israeli minister’s Palestinian comments

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council announced that it had written to the senior diplomat in Washington to express its disapproval of the contentious remarks made by Israel’s finance minister, in which he rejected the existence of the Palestinian people.

The GCC, in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, called on Washington “to assume its responsibilities in responding to all measures and statements that target the Palestinian people”.

The letter from the six-member GCC’s foreign ministers also called on the United States “to play its role in reaching a just, comprehensive and lasting solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, speaking earlier this month, said the Palestinians did not exist as a people, comments that sparked outrage among Arab nations.

Palestinians accuse Jewish settlers of West Bank arson

The US State Department said they had found Smotrich’s comments “to not only be inaccurate but also deeply concerning and dangerous”. Smotrich is part of veteran Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government that took office in December.

The GCC ministers also denounced earlier remarks by Smotrich, calling for the Palestinian town of Huwara in the West Bank to be “wiped out” after two Israelis were shot dead there by an alleged Hamas militant in February, remarks he later walked back.

The GCC, whose foreign ministers met in Riyadh last week, includes the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalised relations with Israel under the US-crafted 2020 Abraham Accords, as well as Saudi Arabia, which has not.

Violence has intensified in the West Bank in recent months, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.

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On Tuesday, the State Department criticised a move by Israel’s parliament to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the West Bank evacuated in 2005, calling it “provocative” and in direct contradiction of promises made to Washington at the time.

Blinken, appearing before a Senate committee, also reiterated previous US pushback on Smotrich’s comments about Palestinians, saying they do not reflect US values.

West Bank arson

The Palestinian foreign ministry accused “Jewish terrorist elements” of an arson attack against a family home in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, but Israeli police said the fire appeared to have been an accident.

West Bank tensions have been running high as Palestinians mark the Muslim holy month of Ramazan amid a surge of violence, including a gun attack on Saturday in which two Israeli soldiers were wounded and almost nightly arrest raids by the Israeli army.

No one was hurt in the predawn fire in Sinjel. Ahmed Awashreh, the owner of the home that was badly damaged, said he was woken by the sound of a window smashing and managed to get his four children and wife out before the flames spread. “It was so close. I’m happy I saved my family,” he said.

A Sinjel resident who requested anonymity said he saw cars whose occupants he recognised as Jewish settlers nearby minutes before the incident.

The Palestinian foreign ministry blamed the incident on “Jewish terrorist elements” but Israeli police, who sent investigators to the scene, said in a statement that the fire “was mostly likely caused due to a short circuit and not a deliberate ignition”.

Most countries deem the settlements, which take up land Palestinians seek for a state, illegal. Israeli disputes this.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group claimed Saturday night’s drive-by shooting in Huwara, 13km from Sinjel, that wounded two soldiers. It was the third time in a month that Israelis had been fired upon there.

Over the past year, Israeli forces have made thousands of arrests in the West Bank and killed more than 250 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians, while more than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks.

In overnight West Bank raids, Israeli forces arrested three suspected militants, the army said on Sunday.

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