26 February 2023

Palestinian and Israeli officials meet ahead of holy month as violence soars

26 February 2023

High-level Palestinian and Israeli delegations will meet in Jordan in a bid to reduce surging tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel said the prime minister’s national security adviser as well as the chief of the Shin Bet domestic security agency were to attend Sunday’s meeting.

The head of the Palestinian intelligence services as well as advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas were also expected to join.

Mr Abbas’ office said the Palestinians would “stress the need to stop all Israeli unilateral actions”.

As the meeting was announced there was a shooting in the northern occupied West Bank.

Israeli emergency rescue services said two people were seriously wounded and airlifted to hospital for treatment.

A Palestinian gunman opened fire at an Israeli car in the occupied West Bank, killing two Israelis, senior politicians and settler leaders said.

The shooting cast a shadow over the proposed meeting.

It came days after an Israeli military raid in a nearby Palestinian city, killing 10 people.

The military said it was searching for the attacker, who opened fire on the car on the West Bank’s main highway and fled.

In an initial move, an Israeli cabinet minister approved a proposal that would impose the death penalty on Palestinian militants involved in deadly attacks.

“On a difficult day in which two Israelis were murdered in a Palestinian terror attack, there is nothing more symbolic that passing the death penalty law on terrorists,” said Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister.

An Israeli official said the meeting was meant to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and came after an American request.

A Jordanian official also said the meeting was meant to stop “Israeli unilateral actions”, build confidence and lead to more comprehensive contacts between the sides.

He said the meeting will take place in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba in Jordan.

Palestinians who oppose any official engagement with Israel, said they would protest, while the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, criticised the meeting.

Israel has pledged to continue fighting militants in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority often has little control.

Israel is also led by a government with members opposed to concessions to the Palestinians and who favour settlement on occupied lands.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged since Israel stepped up raids on West Bank cities, towns and villages following a spate of Palestinian attacks last year.

The bloodshed has increased this year, with more than 60 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 11 people.

Ramadan this year coincides with the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover and worshippers from both faiths are expected to flock to the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, which are often a flashpoint for violence between the sides.

Clashes erupted at a key Jerusalem holy site last year and tensions helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2021.

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