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Pentagon Chief Holds Israel Talks Amid Protests Over Legal Reform Plans 1
Near the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, protesters on foot blocked a major thoroughfare (File)Tel Aviv, Israel: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin held talks in Israel Thursday as flaring violence killed three suspected Palestinian militants and protesters again rallied against the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Thousands of Israelis opposed to the government’s controversial legal reform plans blocked roads in and around Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, forcing an 11th-hour change of venue for Austin’s talks, throwing an international spotlight on Israel’s domestic divisions.Just hours before Austin’s arrival, three suspected Palestinian terrorists were shot dead by undercover agents of Israel’s border police in the occupied West Bank despite a UN call for restraint to halt the “cycle of violence” that has gripped the territory this year.Austin’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant was moved from the defence ministry in Tel Aviv to near Ben Gurion airport in the face of large protests at the airport and near the ministry.President Benjamin Netanyahu also met the Pentagon chief at the same venue, his office said.Their talks came ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned departure for Rome later Thursday, which protesters had sought to obstruct using their vehicles to block access roads to the airport.One of them, Ori Gal, 18, said he was protesting against “the dictatorship emerging from the sewers” and “threatening Israeli democracy”.Near the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, protesters on foot blocked a major thoroughfare, an AFP photographer reported.Smaller demonstrations were taking place at various locations around the country, forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to travel to the airport by helicopter instead of by car.Nine straight weeks of protests have been held by opponents of the reform plans, which would give politicians greater power over the courts. They have drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators who regard the proposals as a threat to democracy.Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he had instructed police to prevent protesters from blocking roads.”Demonstrate, yell, it’s a democracy,” he said. “But anarchy won’t be tolerated.”I won’t have the lives of 70,000 people ruined,” he said, referring to the estimated number of passengers booked to depart from the airport on Thursday.Dozens of travellers were seen heading to the departures area on foot with their luggage, weaving their way through the stationary lines of protesters’s cars.- Mounting West Bank violence -The mounting violence in the West Bank has coincided with the tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, which took office in December and is regarded as the most right-wing in Israeli history.On Thursday morning, the Palestinian health ministry announced the “martyrdom” of three men shot by Israeli forces in Jaba, near the flashpoint northern city of Jenin.The health ministry identified the dead men as Sufyan Fakhoury, 26, Ahmed Fashafsha, 22, and Nayef Malaysha, 25. It did not provide further details.Israeli police said special forces accompanied by soldiers had been in Jaba to arrest suspects involved in shooting attacks against soldiers in the area, including Fakhoury and Fashafsha. It said the pair were operatives of terrorist group Islamic Jihad.”During the operation, shots were fired at the border police undercover officers from the wanted men’s car. Border police undercover officers responded with fire, and killed the three armed men in the car,” police said, adding that Malaysha was also a suspected terrorist.”A number of guns and explosive devices were found in the vehicle,” the police statement said.In a statement, Islamic Jihad condemned Israel for the “heinous assassination” in Jaba.A Tuesday raid by the Israeli military in Jenin left seven Palestinians dead, including a member of Hamas accused of killing two Israeli settlers last month.UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland called on both Israel and the Palestinians Wednesday “to observe calm and restraint”, saying the “cycle of violence… must be stopped immediately.”The Palestinian health ministry identified the seventh fatality from Tuesday’s raid as Walid Nassar, 14.Some observers fear further violence particularly around Jerusalem’s holy sites during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in late March, and the Jewish holiday of Passover in April.Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 75 Palestinian adults and children, including terrorists and civilians.Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The DayExclusive: NASA’s First Woman Head Speaks To NDTV Over Human Spaceflight Plans

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