Israel and Palestinians aim to curb violence as the holiday approaches
CAIRO (AP) — Israel and the Palestinians pledged at a meeting in Egypt on Sunday to take steps to ease tensions ahead of a delicate holiday season — including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb violence and stop violence.” fight. ”
But a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the occupied West Bank underscored the hard work ahead as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches this week.
The Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan and the United States, to end a year-long outbreak of violence. More than 200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners were killed in Palestinian attacks during this period.
Following Sunday’s summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt’s foreign ministry said the sides had reiterated their commitment to de-escalate and prevent further violence.
This included pledges to stop unilateral actions, it said. Israel vowed to halt discussion of building new settlements for four months and plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.
“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to contain and counteract violence, incitement and riotous conditions and actions,” the communiqué said. The sides would report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, she added.
There was no immediate comment from Israel or the Palestinians.
The deal was a breakthrough, at least in words, but delivering on the pledges could pose a challenge.
A similar meeting in Jordan late last month ended with pledges to ease tensions. But the meeting was quickly derailed when a new outbreak of violence erupted that same day. A Palestinian gunman shot dead two Israelis in the occupied West Bank, and Jewish settlers then rampaged through the Palestinian town of Hawara, destroying property and resulting in the death of a Palestinian.
As talks continued on Sunday, a Palestinian gunman opened fire again on an Israeli vehicle in Hawara, seriously injuring an Israeli man, medics said. The man’s wife, who was initially believed to have been shot, was being treated for shock.
The Israeli military said the wounded man and Israeli troops opened fire on the attacker and beat him. The man was later arrested, the army said. His condition was not immediately known.
Hawara is on a busy road in the northern part of the West Bank used by Israeli residents of nearby Jewish settlements. Many settlers carry guns.
The Israeli pledges were largely symbolic. Israel recently authorized the construction of thousands of new settlement homes, and there were no immediate plans to authorize further construction. Still, even any talk of a slowdown in settlement activity could risk a backlash in Israel’s new coalition government, which is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
Bloodshed has increased since the Jordan meeting. Sunday’s shooting and killing of an Islamic Jihad fighter in neighboring Syria added to tensions. The militant group, active in the northern West Bank, accused Israel of assassinating the commander. Israel had no comment.
The mediators want to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which begins this week and coincides with the week-long Jewish Passover next month.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of the summit at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. He later called the shot Israeli a “wounded hero”.
“Anyone who tries to harm the citizens of Israel will pay the price,” Netanyahu said.
Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting in Egypt was meant to “call for an end to this ongoing Israeli aggression against us.”
The coming period is delicate as large numbers of Jewish and Muslim believers pour into the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict and a focus of violence, increasing friction.
Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit an important Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount – an act Palestinians see as a provocation.
According to long-standing agreements, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there. But in recent years, the number of visitors has grown, and some pray quietly in the open air. Such scenes have raised fears among Palestinians that Israel is trying to change the status quo.
Clashes at the site in 2021 helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel Police said they were finalizing preparations in Jerusalem to allow “freedom of religion” for all faiths during Ramadan and Passover “while maintaining security, law and public order.” Hundreds of police offices were said to be on duty, with a focus on Jerusalem’s Old City.
While recent violence began under the previous Israeli government, it has intensified in the first two months of the new government led by Netanyahu and his coalition – the country’s most right-wing government ever.
The government is dominated by uncompromising pro-settlement supporters.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister overseeing the police, is an extremist who was once relegated to the fringes of Israeli politics and has been convicted in the past of inciting violence and supporting a Jewish terrorist group. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Hawara’s “wiping out” after the settlers’ killing spree last month and apologized after an international outcry.
The violence is one of the worst rounds between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in years.
After a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis last spring, Israel launched near-night raids in the West Bank against allegedly militant networks. But the raids did not slow the violence and attacks on Israelis continued, killing 44 people.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2022, the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem. According to a tally by The Associated Press, 85 Palestinians have been killed so far this year.
Israel says most of those killed were militants. But stone-throwing youth protesting the raids and people not involved in the clashes were also killed. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and placed in so-called administrative detention, denied due process for security reasons.
Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians seek these areas for their future independent state.
Federman reported from Jerusalem.
Samy Magdy and Josef Federman, The Associated Press