April 18. 2024. 12:52

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Israel and Palestinians meet in latest bid to halt violence ahead of Ramadan

Israel and the Palestinians have pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of a sensitive holiday season, including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence”.

But a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the occupied West Bank underscored the work that lies ahead as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.

The Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month, shepherded by regional allies Egypt and Jordan, as well as the US, to attempt to end a year-long spate of violence.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks.


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After Sunday’s summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, a joint communique said the sides had reaffirmed a commitment to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence.

[ Settler violence sows West Bank terror as Palestinians say there is no sense of security ]

It includes pledges to stop unilateral actions, the communique said. Israel pledged to stop discussion of new settlement construction for four months, and to stop plans to legalise unauthorised settlement outposts for six months.

“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory states and actions,” the communique said. The sides will report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, it added.

There were no additional comments from Israel or the Palestinians. The agreement marked a breakthrough, in words at least, but implementing the pledges could be a challenge.

A similar meeting in Jordan late last month ended with pledges to de-escalate tensions, but the meeting was quickly derailed when a new burst of violence erupted on the same day.

A Palestinian gunman had shot and killed two Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers responded with a rampage in the Palestinian town of Hawara, destroying property and leading to the death of one Palestinian.

As Sunday’s talks were going on, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at an Israeli vehicle in Hawara, seriously wounding an Israeli man, medics said. The man’s wife was treated for shock. The Israeli military released a photo of the car showing the windscreen riddled with bullet holes.

[ Israeli settlers burn Palestinian homes and cars after two killed by gunman ]

The Israeli military said the wounded man and Israeli troops opened fire and hit the assailant. The man was later arrested, the army said. His condition was not immediately known.

Hawara lies on a busy road in the northern part of the West Bank used by Israeli residents of nearby Jewish settlements.

The Israeli pledges were largely symbolic. Israel recently approved the construction of thousands of new settlement homes, and there were no immediate plans to approve additional construction.

But talk of slowing settlement activity could risk a backlash in Israel’s new coalition government, which is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.

[ Israel dismisses ‘meaningless’ statement by 90 countries opposed to its sanctions on Palestinian Authority ]

Bloodshed has been surging since the meeting in Jordan. Sunday’s shooting, along with the killing of an Islamic Jihad militant in neighbouring Syria, added to the tensions.

The militant group, which is active in the northern West Bank, accused Israel of assassinating the commander.

In Gaza, the Hamas militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, praised Sunday’s shooting as a “natural response” to Israeli military raids.

Mediators want to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which starts this week and will coincide next month with the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of Sunday’s summit in his weekly cabinet meeting. Later, he called the Israeli man who was shot a “wounded hero”.

“Anyone trying to harm the citizens of Israel will pay the price,” he added.

Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting in Egypt was meant to “demand an end to this continuous Israeli aggression against us”.

The upcoming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim faithful pour into Jerusalem’s Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict and a flashpoint for violence, increasing points of friction.

Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit a key Jerusalem holy site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount – an act the Palestinians view 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 grown, with some quietly praying. Such scenes have raised fears among Palestinians that Israel is trying to alter the status quo. – Associated Press