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Israel and Palestinians meet in Egypt to ease tensions


CAIRO — Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday in a bid to ease tensions between the parties and contain a spiral of violence ahead of a sensitive holiday season beginning this week.

The meeting was the second attempt by the parties, led by regional allies Egypt and Jordan and the US, to end a years-long wave of violence that has left more than 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners. killed in Palestinian attacks.

Whatever progress emerged at the previous meeting in Jordan late last month, which ended with pledges to de-escalate tensions, was quickly derailed when another outbreak of violence broke out on the same day. A Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jewish settlers in response to a rampage in a Palestinian town that destroyed property and left one Palestinian dead.

The gore has increased since the last encounter, so expectations for the second installment are low. Still, mediators want to ease tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week and coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover next month.

Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry, said Sunday’s meeting will be attended by “senior political and security officials” from both sides, as well as from Egypt, Jordan and the US. He wrote on Twitter that the talks are part of efforts to achieve and sustain calm between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted that the meeting was to “demand an end to this ongoing Israeli aggression against us.” There was no immediate comment from Israel on the meeting, but Israeli media said senior security officials would attend.

The period ahead is sensitive as large numbers of Jewish and Muslim worshipers pour into Jerusalem’s Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict and a focus of violence, increasing points of friction. Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit an important holy site in Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, which Palestinians consider a provocation. Clashes at the site in 2021 helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

While the violence began under the previous Israeli government, it intensified in the first two months of Israel’s new government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. It is the country’s most right-wing government ever and is dominated by hardline settlement proponents. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister overseeing the police, is an extremist who was once exiled to the fringes of Israeli politics and was previously convicted of inciting violence and supporting a Jewish terror group. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the disaster-stricken Palestinian city to be “erased”, apologizing after an international outcry.

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

After a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis last spring, Israel launched attacks into the West Bank almost nightly, in an attempt to halt the attacks and dismantle militant networks. But the raids did not seem to slow down the violence and attacks on Israelis continued, killing 44 people.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed by Israel in 2022 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem. 85 Palestinians have been killed this year alone, according to a count from The Associated Press.

Israel says most of the dead are militants. But rock-throwing youths protesting the raids have also been killed, as have people not involved in the clashes. Hundreds of Palestinians have been rounded up and placed under so-called administrative detention, which denies them a fair trial for security reasons.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians seek those areas for their future independent state.

Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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