CAIRO – Israeli and Palestinian officials met Sunday in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in an effort to ease tensions between the sides and stem a spiral of violence ahead of a sensitive holiday period that begins this week.
The meeting was the second attempt by the sides, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan as well as the United States, to end a year-long bout of violence that has killed more than 200 Palestinians and more than 40 Israelis and foreigners from Israeli fire. died in Palestinian attacks.
Whatever progress was made from a previous meeting in Jordan late last month, which ended with promises to de-escalate tensions, was quickly derailed when on the same day, a new outbreak of violence erupted. A Palestinian gunman shot dead two Israelis in the occupied West Bank, and Jewish settlers responded by going on a rampage in a Palestinian town, destroying property and killing one Palestinian.
After the last meeting, the bloodshed increased, which made the 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 coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover next month.
Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry, said Sunday’s meeting would be attended by “high-level political and security officials” from each side, as well as from Egypt, Jordan and the United States. He wrote on Twitter that negotiations are ongoing. part of the effort to achieve and maintain peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting was aimed “to demand an end to this continuous Israeli aggression against us.” Israel did not comment on the meeting, but Israeli media reported that high-ranking security officials would attend.
The coming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim worshipers are flocking to Jerusalem’s Old City, an emotional center of the conflict and a flashpoint for violence, exacerbating 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 on the ground in 2021 helped spark the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
While the violence began under Israel’s previous government, it has intensified in the first two months of Israel’s new government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. This is the most right-wing administration in the country, dominated by hardliners. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister who oversees the police, is an extremist once sidelined in Israeli politics with past convictions for inciting violence and supporting a Jewish terrorist group. Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich called for the “erasing” of a Palestinian city hit by attacks, apologizing after an international outcry.
The violence is one of the worst rounds between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in years.
After a series of Palestinian attacks on Israelis last spring, Israel launched almost nightly raids in the West Bank in an attempt to stop the attacks and destroy militant networks. But the raids do not appear to have slowed the violence, and attacks on Israelis continue, 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 the territories since 2004, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem. This year alone, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to an Associated Press count.
Israel claims that most of those killed were militants. But youths who threw stones protesting the incursions were also killed, as were people who did not participate in the confrontations. Hundreds of Palestinians have been rounded up and placed under so-called administrative detention, which denies them 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 to obtain these territories for their future independent state.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.
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