Israelis ready to meet with Mahmoud Abbas on surge in violence

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he would be "perfectly open" to meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to end weeks of Israeli-Palestinian unrest.

Move follows accusations Palestinian leader incited violence by lying about boy's 'execution'

Ahmed Manasra, 13, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, sits handcuffed to his hospital bed Thursday at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, in this picture supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office. (Handout/Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he would be "perfectly open" to meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to end weeks of Israeli-Palestinian unrest.

The Palestinian president has ignited an uproar in Israel after falsely claiming that Israel had "executed" a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who is recovering in an Israeli hospital, drawing new accusations that he is inciting violence at a time of heightened tensions.

Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday he has been speaking to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other leaders about meeting with Abbas.

"I'd be perfectly open to it now," he said. "I think it's potentially useful because it might stop the wave of incitement and false allegations against Israel," he said. "I'd be open to meeting with Arab leaders and the Palestinian leadership in order to stop this incitement and set the record straight."

The boy, who was run over by an Israeli vehicle after involvement in the stabbing of an Israeli boy, has become the centre of heated, high-level name-calling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders — reflecting the abyss between them after a month-long spike in deadly violence.

Abbas said in a televised speech late Wednesday that Israel is engaged in the "summary execution of our children in cold blood" and wrongly claimed that 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra was among those killed. Netanyahu swiftly accused Abbas of "lies and incitement."

A Palestinian tries to dodge rubber coated bullets during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank, on Tuesday. (Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 identified by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops.

On Monday, Ahmed and his 15-year-old cousin Hassan stabbed and seriously wounded two Israelis, including a 13-year-old boy, in Jerusalem. Hassan was shot dead by police while Ahmed was struck by a car after the attack.

Amateur video widely circulated on Palestinian social media sites showed the wounded Ahmed lying on the ground after being struck, his legs splayed and a pool of blood near his head.

Israeli border police search a man driving out of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber in Jerusalem on Wednesday. (Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press)

Bystanders are heard cursing the boy in Hebrew and saying he should die. The images, which made no mention of the stabbing, have enraged many Palestinians.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Thursday published Twitter photos of Ahmed in his bed at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

"The 'murdered Palestinian martyr," a few minutes ago at Hadassah Hospital," a ministry statement said sarcastically.

Later, the Israeli Government Press Office released video showing the boy in his hospital bed being fed by a male nurse.

Dr. Asher Salmon, the deputy director of Hadassah, said the boy is in "light to moderate condition," and that he could expect to be discharged in coming days.

Tougher tone in public

Abbas's latest speech appears aimed at his domestic audience and an attempt to regain some of his standing, amid mounting criticism at home that he had been too conciliatory toward Israel. Behind the scenes, Abbas has been urging his security commanders to clamp down on violence, saying attacks on Israelis counter Palestinian interests.

But in public, he has adopted a tougher tone, drawing Israeli accusations that his rhetoric is stirring up the violence.

"We will not give in to the logic of brute force and policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and its herds of settlers who engage in terrorism against our people and our holy places and our homes and our trees, and the summary execution of our children in cold blood, as they did with the child Ahmed Manasra and other children in Jerusalem and other places," he said in Wednesday's address.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Abbas's comments were a result of inaccurate information.

A Palestinian man runs to cover from tear gas fired by Israeli solders during clashes at the entrance of Erez border crossing between Gaza Strip and Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (Adel Hana/Associated Press)

"We thought in the beginning that he [Ahmed] was killed," Erekat said. "Then the information we had was that he is clinically dead."

There appeared to be no attempt by Abbas's office to set the record straight. Instead, it accused Israel of inciting against the Palestinian leader.

Erekat said Abbas was trying to underscore claims that Israel is wrongfully killing Palestinians being accused of carrying out attacks.

Strong reaction

"There could have been many ways to arrest those people, but they chose to shoot in order to kill, and this is what happened in many cases," he said, calling for an international investigation.

Abbas's claims caused a strong reaction in Israel.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement that "truth isn't relative."

"You can't turn a murderer into a victim and blame the victim that he tried to protect himself," he said.

Israeli commentator Ben Caspit wrote in the Maariv daily said that Abbas's "lie makes us despair."

"It's hard to ignore it and move on," he wrote. "How can the shrinking peace camp in Israel continue to believe that it is possible to reach agreement, to hold a dialogue, to have coexistence with a society that is incapable of telling the truth, even to itself?"


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