Israel, Palestinians meet in Egypt to ease tensions
CAIRO — Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday in a bid to ease tensions between the sides and stem a spiral of violence ahead of a sensitive holiday period beginning this week.
The meeting was the second attempt by the parties, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan as well as the United States, to end a year-long spasm of violence that has seen more than 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners. killed in Palestinian attacks.
Whatever progress was made at the previous meeting in Jordan late last month, which ended with promises to defuse tensions, was quickly derailed when a new outbreak of violence erupted the same day. A Palestinian sniper shot and killed two Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers in response ransacked a Palestinian town, destroying property and resulting in the death of a Palestinian.
The bloodshed has increased since the last meeting, making expectations for the second installment low. Still, mediators want to ease tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week and next month coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said Sunday’s meeting would bring together “high-level political and security officials” from each side, as well as from Egypt, Jordan and the United States. United. He wrote on Twitter that the talks were part of efforts to build and foster calm between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting was aimed at “demanding an end to this continued Israeli aggression against us”. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the meeting, but Israeli media said senior security officials were expected to attend.
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, which Palestinians see as a provocation. Clashes at the site in 2021 helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
While the violence began under the previous Israeli government, it escalated in the first two months of Israel’s new government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. It is the most right-wing administration in the country and is dominated by hardline settlers. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister who oversees the police, is an extremist 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 the Palestinian town hit by the rampage to be “erased”, 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 in what it says is an attempt to stem the attacks and dismantle militant networks. But the raids did not seem to 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, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem. This year alone, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to an Associated Press tally.
Israel says most of those killed were militants. But young stone throwers protesting the incursions were also killed, as were people not involved in the clashes. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and held in so-called administrative detention, which deprives them of due process for security reasons.
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.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.