Israel and Palestinians meet in latest bid to halt violence ahead of Ramadan – The Irish Times

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

But a Palestinian shootout that injured two Israelis in the occupied West Bank underscored the work ahead as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws near.

Led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan and the US, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations met for the second time in less than a month to try 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.

Following Sunday’s summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, a joint communique said the sides had reaffirmed their commitment to de-escalating tensions and preventing further violence.

It includes pledges to stop unilateral actions, the communiqué said. Israel vowed to halt discussion of building new settlements for four months and plans to legalize unauthorized settlement outposts for six months.

“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to contain and counteract violence, incitement and riotous conditions and actions,” the communiqué said. The sides will report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, she added.

There were no additional comments from Israel or the Palestinians. The deal was a breakthrough, at least in words, but delivering on the pledges could pose a challenge.

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

A Palestinian gunman had shot dead two Israelis in the occupied West Bank, and Jewish settlers responded with a rampage in the Palestinian town of Hawara that destroyed property and resulted in the death of a Palestinian.

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

The Israeli military said the wounded man and Israeli troops opened fire, hitting 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 used by Israeli residents of nearby Jewish settlements.

The Israeli pledges were largely symbolic. Israel recently authorized the construction of thousands of new settlement homes, and there were no immediate plans to authorize further construction.

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

Bloodshed has increased since the Jordan meeting. Sunday’s shooting and killing of an Islamic Jihad fighter in neighboring Syria added to tensions.

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

In Gaza, the Hamas militant group opposed to Israel’s existence hailed Sunday’s shooting as a “natural response” to Israeli military attacks.

The mediators want to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which begins this week and coincides with the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover next month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of the summit at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. He later called the shot Israeli a “wounded hero”.

“Anyone who tries 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 “call for an end to this ongoing Israeli aggression against us.”

The coming period is delicate as large numbers of Jewish and Muslim believers pour into the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict and a focus of violence, increasing friction.

Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit an important Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount – an act Palestinians see as a provocation.

Under long-standing agreements, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there, but in recent years the number of visitors has grown, with some praying quietly. Such scenes have raised fears among Palestinians that Israel is trying to change the status quo. – Associated Press


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