CAIRO (AP) — Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting Sunday 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 U.S., 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.
Bloodshed has surged since the last meeting, making expectations for the second installment low. Still, mediators want to ease tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week and which coincides next month with the 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 U.S. 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.” There was no immediate comment from Israel on the meeting, but 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 Hamas.
While the violence began under the previous Israeli government, it has intensified in the first two months of Israel’s new government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. It’s the country’s most right-wing administration ever and 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 the Palestinian town hit by the rampage to be “erased,” 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 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. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future independent state.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.