CAIRO (AP) – Israeli and Palestinian officials met yesterday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in a bid to ease tensions between the sides and rein in a spiral of violence ahead of a sensitive holiday period beginning this week.
The meeting was the second attempt by the sides, shepherded by regional allies Egypt and Jordan as well as the United States (US) to end a year-long spasm of violence that has seen more than 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire.
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. Bloodshed has surged since the last meeting, making expectations for the second instalment low. Still, mediators want to ease tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, which begins this week.
A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry Ahmed Abu Zaid said yesterday’s meeting was 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.
Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting was meant to “demand an end to this continuous Israeli aggression against us”.
Violence has intensified in the first two months of Israel’s new government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. 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 the Palestinian town hit by the rampage to be “erased”, apologising 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.
Israel launched near-nightly raids in the West Bank in what it says is a bid to dismantle militant networks.
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.
Just this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Israel said most of those killed have been militants. 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.