White House condemns killings

 

The White House on Wednesday condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the murder of a Palestinian teenager whose body was discovered in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories are high after the killing, which came just a day after the discovery of three dead Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped late last month.

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The death of Mohammed Hussein Abu, a 16-year-old Palestian who was found beaten and burned to death, has sparked fears of reprisal killings.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. called on “the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take all necessary steps to prevent an atmosphere of revenge and retribution.”

The White House stopped short of labeling Abu Khudair’s death a revenge killing, though Earnest emphasized that “people who undertake acts of vengeance will only destabilize an already volatile and emotional situation.”

“We hope to swiftly see the guilty parties brought to justice,” Earnest said.

President Obama on Monday condemned the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, which sparked calls for revenge on social media in Israel.

“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing,” Obama said in a statement.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” the president continued. “From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort.

“I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” Obama said.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on law enforcement personnel to work quickly to find who was responsible for the murder of the Palestinian teen.

The killings have inflamed the already heated tensions in the Middle East, and further complicated questions about American involvement with the Palestinian government.

On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed calling for the elimination of aid to the Palestinian Authority, arguing U.S. tax dollars should not be going to “an entity kidnapping and murdering Israeli and U.S. children.”

Netanyahu has blamed the killing of the Israeli teens on Hamas, which recently formed a new government with the Palestinian Authority. 

Earnest said he had not seen Paul's proposed legislation, but said the White House was focused on urging "both sides to not allow the situation to spiral into an even worse outbreak of violence."

"There remains some ongoing coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, and we hope that that cooperation will continue," Earnest said.

More generally, Earnest said the Obama administration will assess the interim Palestinian government "based on its composition and its policies and its actions."

"When it comes to reconciliation between the Fatah Party and Hamas, what we have done is we've drawn a distinction between the reconciliation between those two parties and the independent technocratic government that is headed by Prime Minister Abbas that does not currently include any members of Hamas," he said. "That's an important distinction."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry contacted Netanyahu Wednesday following the discovery of the Palestinian teen’s body.

"We will continue to remain in touch with our counterparts from the Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, and again, clearly, we're deeply concerned about the violence on the ground," Psaki said.

Psaki said that while there are "many indications pointing to Hamas' involvement" in the murder of the Israeli teens, the U.S. is waiting for the results of a criminal investigation.

"Clearly, many officials have spoken to their views of what happened here, but we will remain in touch with officials on the ground, and we're not going to prejudge the outcome," Psaki said.

Pressed on whether technocratic Palestinian leaders had control of Hamas, Psaki conceded it was "a difficult circumstance on the ground," but said the U.S. was encouraged to see that Abbas "has strongly condemned these actions."

"We expect and hope that that will continue," she said.

— This story was updated at 3 p.m.