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Israelis and Palestinians meet for talks on how to de-escalate recent wave of attacks

Palestinian demonstrators clash with the Israeli army while forces carry out an operation in the West Bank town of Nablus, on Aug. 9, 2022.
Majdi Mohammed
/
AP
Palestinian demonstrators clash with the Israeli army while forces carry out an operation in the West Bank town of Nablus, on Aug. 9, 2022.

JERUSALEM — The Jordanian government on Sunday announced that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to de-escalate tensions, shortly after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis in a shooting in the occupied West Bank.

Sunday's shooting marked the latest violence in a wave of fighting that has killed dozens of Israelis and Palestinians over the past year. Jordan invited the sides with the aim of reducing tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A statement from Jordan's Foreign Ministry said that the Israeli and Palestinian representatives agreed to work toward a "just and lasting peace" and affirmed the need to "commit to de-escalation on the ground."

It said they had agreed to preserve the status quo at a contested Jerusalem holy site, and that Israel had agreed to halt new settlement approvals in the occupied West Bank for four to six months. It also said both sides agreed to support "confidence-building steps" and to meet again next month in Egypt.

The statement marked a small sign of progress, but many questions remained. As the negotiators were meeting, a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers in the northern West Bank.

The army was looking for the attacker, and Israel's defense minister called for beefing up the military presence in the West Bank.

An Israeli ministerial committee also gave initial approval to a proposal that would impose the death penalty on Palestinian militants involved in deadly attacks. The measure was sent to lawmakers for further debate.

"On a difficult day in which two Israelis were murdered in a Palestinian terror attack, there is nothing more symbolic that passing the death penalty law on terrorists," said Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's far-right national security minister and West Bank settler.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, another settler leader, called for "striking the cities of terror and its instigators without mercy, with tanks and helicopters, in a way that conveys that the master of the house has gone crazy."

Sunday's shooting came days after an Israeli military raid killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants, in the nearby Palestinian city of Nablus. But two men over 60 were also killed in the raid, and a 66-year-old man also died from tear gas inhalation. It was one of the deadliest incidents in the West Bank in years.

In the wake of that shooting, Israel approved construction of over 7,000 new homes in West Bank settlements. It was not clear whether that order was affected by the freeze announced by Jordan.

Israel said the prime minister's national security adviser as well as the chief of the Shin Bet domestic security agency attended the talks in neighboring Jordan. The head of the Palestinian intelligence services as well as advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas also joined.

The presence of top officials at the meeting, as well as delegations from Egypt, Jordan and the United States, underscored the severity of the crisis. It was also a rare high-level meeting between the sides, coming during a time of rising tensions and after the Palestinians cut security coordination with Israel over the violence.

Israeli soldiers take up positions at the scene of a Palestinian shooting attack at the Hawara checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Nablus, on Sunday.
Majdi Mohammed / AP
/
AP
Israeli soldiers take up positions at the scene of a Palestinian shooting attack at the Hawara checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Nablus, on Sunday.

Abbas' office said the Palestinians would "stress the need to stop all Israeli unilateral actions." An Israeli official said the meeting was meant to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and came after an American request.

The meeting's Palestinian attendees were confirmed by a Palestinian official. A Jordanian official also said the meeting was meant to stop "Israeli unilateral actions," build confidence and lead to more comprehensive contacts between the sides. He said the meeting will take place in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba, Jordan.

All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the meeting with the media.

Palestinians who oppose any official engagement with Israel said they would protest the meeting, while Hamas criticized the meeting. It called Sunday's shooting "a natural reaction" to Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and resulting deaths.

"The resistance in the West Bank will remain present and growing, and no plan or summit will be able to stop it," said spokesman Hazem Qassem.

Israel has pledged to continue fighting militants in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority often has little control. Israel also is led by a far-right government with members that oppose concessions to the Palestinians and favor settlement construction on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged since Israel stepped up raids across the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring. The bloodshed has spiked this year, with more than 60 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 13 people in 2023.

Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians say Israel is further entrenching its 55-year open-ended occupation of lands they want for a future state, as well as undermine their own security forces.

Ramadan this year coincides with the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover and worshippers from both faiths are expected to flock to the holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City, which are often a flashpoint for violence between the sides. Clashes erupted at a key Jerusalem holy site last year and tensions at the site helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in 2021.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press