BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday condemned the recent spate of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, saying there was no justification for violence and offering a more full-throated support for the Jewish state than previous U.S. statements.
Kerry, who plans to visit the Mideast next week, said the United States backs Israel's "right to defend its existence."
In a speech at Indiana University, he told a crowd that included former Republican and Democratic members of Congress that he was working with the Israelis and the Palestinians "to stabilize the situation."
"We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians," Kerry said. "There is absolutely no justification for these reprehensible attacks."
On Wednesday, Kerry's spokesman, John Kirby, said Israel hadn't abided by long-standing rules for Jerusalem's religious sites, "which has led to a lot of the violence."
Kirby later said he didn't mean to suggest the status quo for the city's most sensitive holy site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif — had been broken as Palestinians have claimed. The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the site of the biblical Temples. Today, it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam and a Palestinian national symbol.
Israel captured the site, along with the rest of the Old City and east Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Under a long-standing arrangement, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but not pray there, while Jordan remains the custodian.
The current round of violence has been fueled by Palestinian accusations that Israel is plotting to change the status quo. They point to a growing number of Jewish activists, including Israeli politicians, who seek Jewish prayer rights on the mount, as well as to occasional Israeli restrictions on Muslim access. Israel says the restrictions are security measures to prevent friction.
Israel says it is adhering to that agreement and that false allegations and rampant incitement against Jews are driving the violence.
In his speech, Kerry stressed "the importance, politically and privately, of preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations or actions that could lead to violence." He didn't single out either side or any individual for blame.