JERUSALEM - Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday condemned recent Palestinian attacks as terrorism and declared that Israel has "every right in the world to defend itself" as he wrapped up a one-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.
During a day of meetings with Israeli leaders, Kerry's public statements were calibrated to show strong support for Israel as it confronts new unrest and say nothing that Palestinians could construe as encouragement for pursuing violence to achieve independence.
He met in the evening with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Kerry told reporters traveling with him that though the two sides were in no mood for concessions, he hoped to prod them toward concrete moves to calm tensions after two months of attacks, which prompted his first visit to Israel in more than a year.
"I know that the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in Gaza is, at this moment, very dire, that there are extraordinary concerns, obviously, about the violence," he said after two hours of talks with Abbas.
Kerry said he had come at President Obama's behest "to see what we can do to try to help contribute to calm and to restore people's confidence in the ability of a two-state solution to still be viable." A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a longtime objective of U.S. policy in the region.
Clashes over a holy Jerusalem site revered by both Muslims and Jews ignited the wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults, with the death toll rising almost daily. Since Oct. 1, about 100 Palestinians and 22 people of Israeli or other nationalities have been killed.
Massachusetts teenager Ezra Schwartz was fatally shot last week in the southern West Bank. Referring to the 18-year-old victim as "my citizen," Kerry said he had phoned the youth's parents on Monday night to offer condolences.
In a sign that Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not see things exactly the same way despite the former's words of support, their offices' brief accounts of the talks emphasized different aspects. The State Department said the two had discussed ways to stop the violence and "improve conditions on the ground." Netanyahu's office said the talks focused on steps "to end the wave of terror against Israeli citizens and return the quiet and stability."
Netanyahu, who has compared the Palestinian attackers to Islamic State militants, welcomed Kerry by asserting that Israel is fighting a "battle of civilization against barbarism" and vowing that "there can be no peace when we have an onslaught of terror."
Kerry, in turn, directly addressed the belief among many Israelis that the world shrugs off violence against them compared with terrorist attacks on civilians elsewhere.
"Today I express my complete condemnation for any act of terror that takes innocent lives and disrupts the day-to-day life of a nation," he said, as Netanyahu nodded. "Israel has every right in the world to defend itself and has an obligation to defend itself. And it will and it is."