| 18 June 2024, Tuesday |

West Bank attack casts shadow over Israel-Palestinian talks

A Palestinian gunman opened fire at an Israeli vehicle in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, wounding two people, Israeli officials said. The attack cast a shadow over Egyptian-mediated efforts to lower tensions ahead of a sensitive holiday period beginning this week.

The shooting came as Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in a bid to rein in a spiral of violence as the Muslim holy of month of Ramadan begins this week. The shooting immediately raised questions about the prospects for the new talks.

The meeting was the second attempt by the sides, shepherded by regional allies Egypt and Jordan as well as the United States, to end a year-long spasm of violence that has seen more than 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners killed in Palestinian attacks.

Whatever progress emerged out of the previous meeting in Jordan late last month, which ended with pledges to de-escalate tensions, was quickly derailed when a new burst of violence erupted on the same day. A Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers in response rampaged in a Palestinian town, destroying property and leading to the death of one Palestinian.

As Sunday’s talks were underway, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on an Israeli car in the same town — Hawara — as last month’s violence, the Israeli military said.

Israeli medics said a man was shot in the upper body and was seriously wounded while his wife was lightly hurt.

The Israeli army said the suspect was shot — either by the wounded man or by soldiers — and arrested. His condition was not immediately known.

Hawara lies on a busy road in the northern part of the West Bank that is used by Israeli residents of nearby Jewish settlements. Many settlers carry guns.

Bloodshed has been surging since last month’s meeting in Jordan, making expectations for Sunday’s second installment low.

The killing of an Islamic Jihad fighter in neighboring Syria added to the tensions Sunday. The militant group, which is active in the northern West Bank, accused Israel of assassinating the commander. Israel had no comment.

Still, mediators want to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which start this week and which will coincide next month with the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover.

Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for the Egyptian 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 US. He wrote on Twitter that the talks are part of efforts to achieve and support calm between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abu Zaid said regional and international participation in the meeting aims at establishing “mechanisms” to follow and activate what the parties agree on, but provided no additional details.

The talks are part of efforts to support “dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to work towards ceasing unilateral measures and escalation, and to break the existing cycle of violence and achieve calm,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of the summit in his weekly Cabinet meeting.

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

Israeli media said senior security officials were set to attend.

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 friction points.

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, which the Palestinians view as a provocation.

Clashes at the site in 2021 helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and the armed Palestinian group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

While the latest violence began under the previous Israeli government, it has intensified in the first two months of the new government, headed by Netanyahu and his coalition — the country’s most right-wing administration ever.

The government is dominated by hard-line settlement supporters. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister who oversees the police, is an extremist once relegated to the fringes of Israeli politics, with past convictions for incitement to violence and support of a Jewish terror group. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Hawara to be “erased” after last month’s settler rampage, apologizing after an international outcry.

The violence is one of the worst rounds between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in years.

Following a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis last spring, Israel launched near-nightly raids in the West Bank in what it says is a bid to stem the attacks and dismantle militant networks. But the raids did not appear to slow the violence and attacks against Israelis have continued, 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 those territories since 2004, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Just this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Israel says most of those killed have been gunmen. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions have also been killed as have people not involved in the confrontations. Hundreds of Palestinians have been rounded up and placed under so-called administrative detention, which denies them due process on security grounds.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future independent state.

  • Associated Press