US defence chief calls for Israel and Palestine to negotiate

US defence chief calls for Israel and Palestine to negotiate
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US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has made his first visit to the Middle East since taking charge at the Pentagon. Ahead of arriving at Tel Aviv he had cautioned that Israel runs the risk of becoming isolated in the region.

He met Defence Minister Ehud Barak reaffirming the US commitment to Israel’s security. Later he will hold separate talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is urging a return to peace talks.

“I want to emphasise that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action on both sides to move towards a negotiated two-state solution. There is no alternative to negotiation,” he said.

Reaction to an arson attack on a mosque in northern Israel highlights one of the barriers.

Graffiti sprayed on the walls spelt out the words ‘Palmer’ and ‘revenge’, believed to refer to a Jewish settler who police say died in a crash caused by Palestinians who threw stones at his car.

“This mosque here is a red line. The whole of the state of Israel should know, all of Israel should know that this is a red line and that they will pay for it,” exclaimed one angry resident.

The attack is the subject of a police investigation and has been condemned by Benjamin Netanyahu whose office said the prime minister was “outraged” when he saw the pictures.

Police say they have beefed up their presence in the area to prevent any retaliation.

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