European nations condemn West Bank violence, urge calm

LONDON (AP) — A group of European countries expressed “grave concern” Saturday that recent violence in the West Bank could derail efforts to rekindle peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians as they called on both sides to restore calm.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain issued a joint statement condemning attacks against both Israelis and Palestinians following an outbreak of violence that left three people dead in the occupied West Bank town of Hawara.

“These acts can lead nowhere, except to more violence,” the European nations said. “Those responsible must face full accountability and legal prosecution. All unilateral actions that threaten peace and incitement to violence must cease.’’

Scores of Israeli settlers rampaged through Hawara on Feb. 26, setting dozens of cars and homes on fire after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Palestinian medics said one man was killed and four others were badly wounded in one of the worst outbreaks of settler violence in decades.

The violence took place the same day that Israeli and Palestinian representatives joined U.S., Egyptian and Jordanian officials in Aqaba, Jordan, for the first high-level talks in years aimed at defusing tensions in the regions.

The attacks raised doubts about a statement released after the talks in which Israeli and Palestinian officials reaffirmed their commitment to “de-escalation on the ground” and the need to prevent further violence.

Tensions in the West Bank have soared in recent months. Near-daily Israeli arrest raids have sparked gunfights that killed over 60 Palestinians so far this year — the highest death toll in the first two months of the year since 2000.

Hawara, a town of 7,000 Palestinians surrounded by ideological Jewish settlements, has long been a flash point for violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The six European nations said the talks in Aqaba created a “spark of hope,” and they urged both sides to work toward a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.

“We urge all parties to refrain from making this fragile process derail, and call on all parties to make good on the commitments they made in the Aqaba meeting by de-escalating in words and deeds and to restore calm, in order for those efforts to blossom,” they said.

They also urged the Israeli government to reverse a recent decision to permit the construction of more than 7,000 new housing units in the West Bank and to legalize other settlements.

Israel’s new government, the most right-wing in its history, has vowed to expand settlements on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a future state. Most of the world considers Israeli settlements a violation of international law and a roadblock to peace.