Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience in China that Jews would never have to run again thanks to Israel's strong military.

He was speaking on a tour of China during his visit to a neighbourhood in Shanghai where Jews found refuge during World War II.

The trip came at a controversial time after two weekend air attacks by Israel deep in the heart of Syria. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticised the airstrikes in which a weapons storage site and an arms dump outside Damasuc were targeted, as "unacceptable". Israel had accused Syria of planning to ship weapons to Hezbollah.

But Netanyahu's China trip was focused on economic matters. He and his wife toured Shangai's Ohel Moshe synagogue in the Hongkou district that housed 18,000 Jews during the Nazi persecution.

Netanyahu said: "While the fate of the Jewish people has changed significantly since then, when Jews could only plead to be rescued, today the Jewish people have a state and army of their own and no longer need to plead to be rescued."

Israeli Army Radio reported that Netanyahu had slashed projects to build new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in an apparent bid to help US efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.

Haaretz reported that Netanyahu promised US Secretary of State John Kerry that the government would refrain from building new settlements.