Israeli and Palestinian officials have agreed at a meeting in Egypt to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The talks in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday stressed the need to prevent any disruptive actions at Jerusalem’s holy sites when Ramadan starts later this week.
In a joint statement following the talks attended by United States, Egyptian and Jordanian officials, the parties also reconfirmed commitments made at a meeting in Aqaba last month, including an Israeli pledge to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months.
The Israeli pledge was largely symbolic. Israel recently approved the construction of thousands of new settlement homes, and there were no immediate plans to approve additional construction.
Still, mere talk of slowing settlement activity could risk a backlash in Israel’s right-wing coalition government, which is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
A similar meeting in Jordan on February 26 ended with pledges to de-escalate tensions. It was quickly derailed by several new bursts of violence.
A Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers rampaged in the Palestinian town of Huwara, killing a Palestinian man and destroying property in what has been described as a pogrom.
An Israeli raid in Nablus also killed 11 Palestinians, making expectations for the second installment low.
As Sunday’s talks were going on, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a vehicle in Huwara, seriously wounding an Israeli man, medics said. The man’s wife was treated for shock.
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.
Huwara lies on a busy road in the northern part of the West Bank that is used by Israeli settlers, many of whom are armed.
Over the past year, Israeli forces have made thousands of arrests in the West Bank and killed more than 200 Palestinians, while more than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks.
The Israeli-occupied West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations in recent months, with near-daily Israeli military raids and escalating violence by Israeli settlers.
Mechanism to curb violence
“The two sides agreed to establish a mechanism to curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory states and actions,” the joint statement said. The sides would report on progress at a follow-up meeting in Egypt next month, it added.
It did not give further details on the mechanism.
Parties to the talks also “emphasised the necessity of both Israelis and Palestinians to actively prevent any actions that would disrupt the sanctity” of Jerusalem’s holy sites during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to the statement.
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 long-standing 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.
Clashes at the site in 2021 helped trigger an 11-day Israeli war on Gaza.
Source: Al Jazeera
BDST: 1256 HRS, MAR 20, 2023