Obama administration condemns murder of American yeshiva student


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration condemned in the “strongest possible terms” the murder of an American yeshiva student in the West Bank.

“We were deeply saddened to learn about the death of Ezra Schwartz, an American citizen from Massachusetts who was murdered in a terrorist attack on Thursday while in Israel to pursue his studies,” the State Department said in a statement sent Friday to reporters.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends and community, as well as the family and friends of the four other people killed in yesterday’s tragic events.”

Schwartz, 18, of Sharon, Massachusetts, was one of three people killed in a shooting attack near the Alon Shvut settlement in the West Bank. Hours earlier, a Palestinian attacker stabbed two men to death near a prayer service in Tel Aviv.

“We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms these outrageous terrorist attacks,” the statement said. “These tragic incidents underscore the importance of taking affirmative steps to restore calm, reduce tensions and bring an immediate end to the violence.”

The statement said five other Americans were wounded in the attacks.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings, pro-Israel activists flooded social media with queries about whether the Obama administration would condemn the murder the way it had the murder of an American student among at least 129 people slain in the Nov. 13 Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris.

Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, condemned the attack on Schwartz almost as soon as it was reported, in a statement on his Facebook page. Referring to a speech he had given the day before likening the terrorism in France to that in Israel, Shapiro wrote: “As I said yesterday, terror is terror, and we condemn it forcefully.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed “disappointment” on Friday afternoon that the Obama administration had not condemned the attack, a day after Shapiro’s posted comments and just minutes before the State Department issued its condemnation to reporters.

“We are deeply disappointed that the United States government has not issued a statement despite the death of an American citizen,” the Presidents Conference said in its statement.

Also Friday, State Department spokesman John Kirby slammed as “illegitimate and counterproductive” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to allow the marketing of 436 housing units in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood.

“We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations,” Kirby said Friday, referring to the decision to advance sales of the units in Ramat Shlomo, in Jerusalem’s northeast.

A previous announcement regarding the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, in March 2010, led to a crisis in relations between the American and Israeli governments, coming during a goodwill visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.

“We remain unequivocally opposed to these kinds of unilateral steps that seek to pre-judge the outcome of negotiations,” Kirby said Friday. “They’re going to have detrimental effects on the ground, increase already heightened tensions with the Palestinians, and further isolate Israel internationally.”

John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, will be in Israel and the West Bank this week in a bid to calm tensions that have led to a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent months and Israeli efforts to curb the violence.

“At this sensitive time, we call on all parties to redouble their efforts to restore trust and confidence, promote calm, and return to a path of peace,” Kirby said.

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