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State Department sends official to Israel amid spike in violence

State Department sends official to Israel amid spike in violence
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The State Department is sending a top official to Israel amid a spike in violence between the country’s military and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper is traveling to Israel Tuesday and will leave Saturday, the department said in a statement. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker will also be in Israel from Tuesday to Friday on a previously scheduled visit.

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“In Israel, Assistant Secretary Cooper will meet with senior officials to discuss a wide range of political-military issues, including regional strategic priorities, defense trade, and military-to-military cooperation,” the State Department.

“Israel is a key U.S. security partner and the leading recipient of U.S. military assistance, including more than $3 billion in annual Foreign Military Financing managed by the Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.” 

The announcement of Cooper’s visit comes amid renewed violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Militants in the territory have launched over 190 rockets into Israel, according to the Israeli military, after Israeli forces killed Islamic Jihad leader Baha abu al-Ata in an early-morning raid Tuesday.

“He initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, whose suffering we have seen. He was in the midst of planning additional attacks in the immediate short term. He was a ticking bomb,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE tweeted, referring to al-Ata. 

“I would like to reiterate: Israel is not interested in escalation, but will do everything necessary to defend ourselves,” he added.

At least three Palestinians were killed and 30 wounded in retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip, according to Haaretz. Schools and all nonessential work were also canceled in targeted areas, and local authorities have ordered shelters to be opened as necessary as Israel prepares for further violence.