Israel and Palestinians want to curb violence as holidays approach
CAIRO — 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 and to counter violence”.
But a Palestinian shooting that injured two Israelis in the occupied West Bank underscored the hard work ahead of us 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, hosted by their regional allies Egypt and Jordan, as well as the United States, to end a spasm of violence in ‘a year. More than 200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners were killed in Palestinian attacks during this period.
Following Sunday’s summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, a joint statement said the parties reaffirmed their commitment to de-escalate and prevent further violence.
These include promises to end unilateral actions, he said. Israel has pledged to halt talks about building new settlements for four months and halt plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.
“Both parties have agreed to establish a mechanism to curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory states and actions,” the statement said. The parties will report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, he added.
There were no additional comments from Israel or the Palestinians. The agreement marked a breakthrough, at least in words, but implementing the commitments could be a challenge.
A similar meeting in Jordan late last month ended with promises to defuse tensions. But the meeting was quickly derailed when a new outburst of violence erupted the same day. A Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers in response ransacked the Palestinian town of Hawara, destroying property and resulting in the death of a Palestinian.
As Sunday’s talks continued, a Palestinian gunman again opened fire on an Israeli vehicle in Hawara, seriously injuring an Israeli, medics said. The man’s wife was treated for shock. The Israeli military released a photo of the car showing the bullet-riddled windshield.
The Israeli army said the injured man and Israeli troops opened fire and hit the attacker. 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 that is used by Israeli residents of nearby Jewish settlements. Many settlers carry guns.
The Israeli commitments were largely symbolic. Israel recently approved the construction of thousands of new homes in the settlements, and there were no immediate plans to approve additional construction. Yet even talking about a slowdown in settlement activity could risk a backlash in Israel’s new coalition government, which is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
The bloodshed has increased since the encounter in Jordan. Sunday’s shooting, along with the killing of an Islamic Jihad militant in neighboring Syria, has heightened tensions. The militant group, active in the northern West Bank, accused Israel of assassinating the commander. Israel did not comment.
In Gaza, the Hamas militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, hailed Sunday’s shooting as a ‘natural response’ to Israeli military raids and said meeting in Egypt would not stop it . But he did not claim responsibility for the attack.
Mediators want to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which begins this week and next month will coincide with the Jewish holiday week of Passover.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of Sunday’s summit during his weekly Cabinet meeting. He later called the Israeli who was shot 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 aimed at “demanding an end to this continued Israeli aggression against us”.
The coming period is sensitive as large numbers of Jewish and Muslim worshipers flock to the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict and hotbed of violence, increasing the points of friction.
Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit a key holy site in Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount — an act Palestinians see as a provocation.
Under longstanding arrangements, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there. But in recent years, the number of visitors has increased, with some praying quietly. Such scenes have made Palestinians fear that Israel is trying to change the status quo.
Clashes at the site in 2021 helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel Police said they were completing preparations in Jerusalem to “allow freedom of worship” for all faiths during Ramadan and Passover “while maintaining security, law and public order”. He said hundreds of police stations were deployed, focusing on Jerusalem’s Old City.
While the latest violence began under Israel’s previous government, it escalated in the first two months of the new government, led by Netanyahu and his coalition – the country’s most right-wing administration.
The government is dominated by die-hard settlers. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister who oversees the police, was once relegated to the fringes of Israeli politics, with past convictions for inciting violence and supporting a Jewish terror group. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Hawara to be “erased” after the settler rampage last month, apologizing after an international outcry.
The violence is one of the worst streaks between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in years.
Following a series of Palestinian attacks on Israelis last spring, Israel has launched near-night raids in the West Bank against what it calls militant networks. But the raids did not slow the violence.
So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to an Associated Press tally. Fourteen people in Israel, all but one civilian, were killed in Palestinian attacks.
Israel says most of those killed were militants. But young stone throwers protesting the incursions and people not involved in the clashes were also killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians seek these territories for their future independent state.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Fares Akram of Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed to this report.