Israeli forces raid Shuafat refugee camp amid de-escalation calls ahead of Ramadan

Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to ease tensions before holy month

Israeli security forces in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem after family home of a Palestinian militant was demolished in February 2022. Photo: AP
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Palestinian media reported a Tuesday dawn raid by Israeli forces on the city of Nablus and the Shuafat refugee camp, north of Jerusalem.

The operations took place amid rising tensions following comments from an Israeli minister who said there was “no such thing” as a Palestinian people.

Also on Tuesday, Israeli forces raided the house of Palestinian prisoner Osama Al Taweel in the Rafidia neighbourhood of Nablus, according to the Palestinian Al Quds news outlet.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich angered Jordan for speaking at a podium covered in what appeared to be a variation of the Israeli flag that showed an Israeli state with expanded boundaries that included the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Jordan.

“Is there a Palestinian history or culture? There is none,” he can be heard saying in video of the speech he gave on Sunday at a conference in France shared widely on social media.

“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” he said.

Mr Smotrich, who heads a religious-nationalist party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition, made the speech on the day that Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh for de-escalation talks ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holiday.

The high-level security talks at the Red Sea resort city, which are brokered by allies Egypt and Jordan and also the US, aim to end a year of violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians and more than 40 people in Israel.

Israel's Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on Monday. AFP

Netanyahu judicial challenges

In Israel, Mr Netanyahu on Monday announced a softening of his judicial overhaul plan but an unallayed opposition said it would still challenge key legislation in the Supreme Court.

The package of reforms sought by Mr Netanyahu's coalition has led to weeks of street demonstrations and stirred worries among western allies who fear a threat to the independence of Israel's justice system.

After discussing the situation with US President Joe Biden, Mr Netanyahu said he would postpone most of the bills apart from legislation shaking up Israel's system for selecting judges, which he wants ratified before a parliament recess on April 2.

His justice minister, however, said the delay was more technical because of the constrained timeline, adding that he remained committed to carrying out all the proposed changes and warned against high court intervention.

The bill for selecting judges was amended in a Knesset review panel on Sunday that would reduce the likely majority for coalition figures on a panel that reviews appointments to the bench.

Updated: March 21, 2023, 5:20 AM