"Blood will spill in Judea and Samaria...Regards to Kerry."
Suspected Jewish vandals scrawled this note in Hebrew, referencing the Israeli term for the West Bank, on a wall there early Tuesday ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to the region. America's chief diplomat arrives in the New Year in an attempt to restart peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The vandals are also believed to have set fire to three vehicles in the West Bank before fleeing to the Palestinian town of Jalazoun, said local police spokesman Mickey Rosenfield, according to the Associated Press. Police are investigating.
The incident followed news that the Israeli government had released two Palestinian prisoners convicted of conducting attacks against Israelis. The two prisoners were warmly welcomed back into Palestinian territory by President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced sharp criticism at home over the release, part of a U.S.-sponsored deal to kickstart peace talks between the two governments.
Kerry travels to Jerusalem on New Year's Day to meet with Netanyahu. He will then visit Ramallah for meetings with Abbas. The State Department says he will "discuss the ongoing final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues."
Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians has stalled in recent years. A chance at continued talks re-emerged this summer following efforts from Kerry. The Obama administration has leaned on these prospective negotiations as a foreign policy victory, at a time when the president has been criticized for inaction in Syria and ill-defined responses to tensions in the Pacific.
Police continuing investigation incident in Jilazun. Graffiti "Regards to Kerry" & "Blood will spill in Judea and Samaria" found at scene
— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) December 31, 2013
Rosenfeld said Israeli security forces and border police are stepping up patrols in cities and public areas on New Year's Eve.