Netanyahu under pressure from US, Israeli protests grow

Israel's closest ally the United States has demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repudiate a call by his hardline Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for a Palestinian village to be erased.

Further pressuring the Israeli leader were images unseen for years in Tel Aviv where police fired stun guns and scuffled with Israeli protesters on a main road during a national "day of disruption" over government plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Reuters reports the head of a pro-settler party in Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition, Smotrich made the comments at a conference on Wednesday amid a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks and Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Asked about a weekend settler rampage through the Palestinian village of Huwara, which an Israeli general on Tuesday described as a "pogrom," Smotrich said: "I think that Huwara needs to be erased".

Smotrich added: "I think that the state of Israel needs to do it, but God forbid not individual people."

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the comments "irresponsible," "repugnant" and "disgusting," telling reporters: "We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments."

Palestinian leaders welcomed the State Department reaction.

The unusually forthright reaction from Washington underlined the increasing international alarm at the escalating violence in the West Bank, where three Israelis and a Palestinian were killed in two days of bloodshed earlier in the week.

Violence persisted on Wednesday. Israeli forces killed one Palestinian and arrested six in the West Bank.



Protesters break police barricades during a demonstration against the Israeli government's controversial justice reform bill in Tel Aviv on 1 March, 2023. Photo: AFP / Jack Guez