RAMALLAH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his sorrow Tuesday for "innocent" Palestinians killed in a spike of violence in the occupied West Bank, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Washington's top diplomat met Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on the final stop on a Middle East tour aimed at curbing the bloodshed, following meetings with Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet ministers.

Both sides are reeling from a new wave of violence. A Palestinian shot dead seven people in a Zionist settlement in annexed east Jerusalem on Friday, a day after the deadliest army raid in years in the West Bank claimed 10 Palestinian lives. This month the conflict has killed 35 Palestinian adults and children, as well as the six Zionists, including a child, and one Ukrainian, killed on Friday.

Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken expressed his "sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year". The year 2022 was the deadliest in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the occupied territory in 2005. "Palestinians and (Zionists) alike are experiencing growing insecurity, growing fear in their homes, in their communities and in their places of worship," said Blinken.

The US envoy's remarks alongside the Palestinian leader came a day after he met with Netanyahu, when he urged both sides to take "urgent steps" to calm tensions. Blinken on Monday also condemned Palestinians "who celebrate... acts of terrorism that take innocent lives," in the wake of the shooting in east Jerusalem. After meeting Palestinian residents in the West Bank, the US top diplomat said he saw a "shrinking horizon of hope" for Palestinians.

Before heading to the West Bank on Tuesday, Blinken met new Zionist Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who took office as part of the rightwing government Netanyahu formed in December. Gallant praised Blinken for his "unwavering support" in helping safeguard the Zionist entity's military superiority in the region.

The fatal east Jerusalem shooting was preceded by the Zionist forces' deadliest operation in the West Bank in years, killing 10 people Thursday in the densely populated Jenin refugee camp. The Zionist military later hit sites in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave. The Islamist group said Blinken's visit "emphasizes the absolute support and partnership with the (Zionist) occupation".

Netanyahu's cabinet has moved to punish "the families of terrorists that support terrorism" with home demolitions and other measures. His government is also planning to rescind the rights to social security benefits of attackers' relatives, and steps to make it easier for Zionist citizens to obtain permits to carry firearms.

Blinken had made an initial stop in Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, commending "Egypt's important role in promoting stability in the region". The diplomats and intelligence services of Egypt - a major recipient of US military aid - are regularly called upon to intercede between Zionists and Palestinians. Blinken's visit is part of the Biden administration's efforts to engage quickly with Netanyahu, who had tense relations with the previous Democratic president Barack Obama.

Blinken reiterated US support for a Palestinian state, a prospect few expect to advance under the new Zionist government. Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken criticized Zionist moves which Washington believes create barriers to the two-state solution. He listed "settlement expansion, the legalization of (settlement) outposts, demolitions and evictions, disruptions to the historic status of the holy sites, and of course incitement and acquiescence to the violence". - AFP