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Antony Blinken is on a trip to the Middle East amidst a spate of violence


There's violence in the Middle East this weekend. Today, a shooting in Jerusalem - Israeli police say a 13-year-old Palestinian wounded two people. Last night, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in Jerusalem. And the day before that, Israeli military killed nine Palestinians during a raid on suspected militants. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: First, what do we know about the latest attacks in Jerusalem?

ESTRIN: Well, this morning, Israeli police say a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was hiding behind a parked car. He opened fire and wounded a father and son, who were walking by. And some people who were armed shot and wounded the young shooter. This took place outside a Jewish settlement within a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem. And the shooter, as we said, just 13-years-old, so there are questions about whether he was inspired by the attack that took place last night when a Palestinian opened fire outside a synagogue.

We're hearing today from witnesses who say a husband and wife were at a Friday night Shabbat dinner. They heard shots, ran outside, and got killed. Someone else was in his car, stopped to help the wounded, and he was killed, too. President Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the synagogue attack was horrific. And we've been seeing some Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank celebrating these attacks - handing out sweets, setting off fireworks.

SIMON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken has had a trip to the region scheduled for quite some time. He has to acknowledge this violence, doesn't he?

ESTRIN: Oh, sure. He's going to try to keep this cycle of violence from spinning out of control. And it really is a cycle of violence now. On Thursday, Israeli troops carried out their deadliest attack on Palestinians in the West Bank in decades. They were going after suspects in Jenin. They killed Palestinian gunmen and a 61-year-old woman. And then, a day later, Friday night, the deadliest Palestinian attack on Israelis in years.

Now, Israel's new far-right government may be seeking to take some tough measures on Palestinians especially after these latest attacks. And from the Palestinian perspective, their leaders say they're not going to be cooperating anymore with Israeli security officials. So Blinken will be meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trying to get them to cooperate. He's going to have a very tough time doing that.

SIMON: Daniel, does Israel's new right-wing government have any points of agreement with the Biden administration on the eve of this trip?

ESTRIN: Well, that's very interesting. Netanyahu has two main asks from the U.S. He wants help with the U.S. to get tougher on Iran and to help Israel make history and open diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. But overshadowing all of that is this new violence and especially the makeup of Israel's new far-right government.

The U.S. has expressed concerns about some of its policies. Israel wants to legalize dozens of little settlement outposts deep inside the West Bank. For the Biden administration, that's a red line. The U.S. wants that land to be reserved for eventually a Palestinian state. So it is going to be a rocky road between the Biden administration and the Israeli government.

SIMON: And, Daniel, Israelis have been going to the streets to demonstrate against their government's plans to weaken the powers of the judiciary. Will the secretary of state address that?

ESTRIN: That's a very big question. Many Israelis who are protesting want to know, will the Biden administration stand up? The administration has been very cautious so far not to be seen as meddling in Israel's domestic affairs. But this is the major issue in Israel right now, Scott. Unprecedented demonstrations in the streets, tens of thousands of Israelis fearful that Israel's plans to weaken the justice system will weaken democracy, and we are expecting big demonstrations planned again today, the fourth consecutive weekend in Israel. So we'll see if Blinken stands up and says anything about that.

SIMON: NPR's Daniel Estrin, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.