Israeli minister's call to 'erase' Palestinian village an incitement to violence, US says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrive to attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem
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By Rami Ayyub

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's call for a Palestinian village to be "erased" amounted to incitement to violence and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must publicly disavow it, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

An ultranationalist in Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, Smotrich made the comments at a conference on Wednesday amid a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks and Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Asked about a weekend settler rampage through the Palestinian village of Huwara, which an Israeli general on Tuesday described as a "pogrom," Smotrich said: "I think that Huwara needs to be erased".

Smotrich added: "I think that the state of Israel needs to do it, but God forbid not individual people."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that Smotrich's comments "were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting."

Price continued: "And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence."

Israel's police have arrested 10 people for suspected involvement in the Huwara attack in which one Palestinian was killed. The rampage followed a Palestinian gun attack that killed two Israelis.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed one Palestinian and arrested six others suspected of involvement in the fatal shooting of an Israeli American in the West Bank on Monday.

After making the Huwara comments, Smotrich issued a statement saying the media had misinterpreted them, without retracting his call for the village to be erased.

"I spoke about how Huwara is a hostile village that has become a terrorist outpost" where attacks against Jews are launched daily, Smotrich said, adding it was forbidden to take the law into one's own hands.

"I support a disproportionate response by the (Israeli military) and the security forces to every act of terrorism," including the "deportation of the families of the terrorists," Smotrich added.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Washington, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Emily Rose in Jerusalem; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)