JERUSALEM (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem Tuesday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a bid to ease weeks of bloodshed, but hopes for a breakthrough are faint a day after four people were killed.
Kerry will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin while in Jerusalem, then meet separately with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
His visit comes after nearly two months of violence that has left 92 Palestinians dead, including one Arab Israeli, as well as 17 Israelis, an American and an Eritrean, and sparked fears of a new Palestinian uprising.
More than half of the Palestinians killed have been alleged attackers, while others were shot during demonstrations and clashes with Israeli security forces, including along the Gaza border.
The stabbings, shootings and car rammings have overwhelmingly been carried out by so-called “lone wolf” attackers, making it harder for Israel to predict where and when the next assault will come.
Three Palestinians – including a teenage girl – and an Israeli soldier died on Monday in the latest violence.
Palestinians blame changes to the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – Islam’s third most-holy site but known to Jews as Temple Mount – as the spark for the bloodshed.
Israel has repeatedly denied it is seeking to change the current rules, under which Jews and Christians can visit but only Muslims can pray at the site.
Mr. Netanyahu has come under pressure to tighten security and on Monday he announced stricter controls on Palestinian vehicles and an increase in so-called “bypass roads,” which create separate routes for Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
During a visit to a West Bank settlement that has been the scene of numerous attacks, he also said work permits would be withdrawn for families of alleged attackers and pledged there would be “no limits” on the powers of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.
Israel has already adopted the controversial policy of demolishing the homes of attackers, which it says acts as a deterrent.
On Monday evening, the Israeli army launched an air raid on the Gaza Strip after the Islamist movement Hamas fired a rocket into southern Israel, sources from both sides said, adding that no one was hurt.
Against this backdrop, Kerry’s visit will focus on ending the current violence and improve conditions on the ground.
The top US diplomat has repeatedly called for both sides to take “concrete steps” to reduce tension, end provocative rhetoric and ensure access to Jerusalem holy sites, but his words have had little impact on the ground.
There is also little optimism he will be able to convince the Palestinian and Israeli leaders to resume peace talks, which broke down more than 18 months ago.
“There’s no agreement to be reached between the parties right now,” one senior US official said.