Egypt to host Palestinian, Israeli and US officials to talk de-escalation before Ramadan

Meeting aiming to stem Israel-Palestine violence comes on the heels of another potential escalation between Israel and Lebanon

Palestinian demonstrators in Nablus show support for prisoners held in Israeli jails. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Egypt will host a meeting of officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and the US to discuss measures to defuse tension before the start of Ramadan, Egyptian officials said on Thursday.

The security officials said the meeting on Sunday would be held in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.

The gathering comes amid growing violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem as armed factions clash with Israeli security forces, leaving growing numbers of civilians and militants dead while several attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have also caused casualties.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers killed at least three Palestinians in the flashpoint West Bank city of Jenin, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The raid came hours after Israel's Defence Minister Yaov Gallant promised to retaliate against the perpetrators of a roadside attack, which Israeli officials say may be linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group ― an Iran-backed political party and paramilitary group and a sworn enemy of Israel.

“Whoever carried out this attack will regret having carried out an attack against the citizens of Israel and against the state of Israel,” Mr Gallant said while touring the Israel-Lebanon border.

“We will find the right timing and appropriate manner to hit back.”

A spokesman for Unifil, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon charged with monitoring stability in South Lebanon and northern Israel, told The National that they had not observed any recent border crossings.

Meeting to stem Israel-Palestine violence

As well as Sunday’s meeting to try to de-escalate the broader situation, there will be indirect negotiations mediated by US and Egyptian officials between Israeli officials and representatives of militant Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The meeting, also in Sharm El Sheikh, will discuss a possible exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel, the officials said.

Egyptian officials said Hamas had informed Cairo on Thursday that it was reconsidering its participation in the Sharm El Sheikh meeting.

They said Hamas had cited plans by the Israeli government to stage incursions into several West Bank cities, apparently to arrest militants involved in attacks.

An exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel has been on the table since the two enemies fought an 11-day war in May last year.

Negotiations on the exchange stalled when Israel objected to the release of specific individuals included in a list of prisoners that Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to be freed.

In the 2022 fighting, Israel unleashed hundreds of air strikes against militant targets in Gaza, while Hamas and other militants fired more than 4,000 rockets towards Israel. More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

In the latest bout of Palestinian-Israeli violence, scores have been killed from both sides in the violence gripping the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

The scope of the violence and its deadliness is the largest in years and is chiefly blamed on the extremist policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, which is taking a hard-line approach to the Palestinians and supports the unfettered expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Ramadan, which begins next week, is often a time of some of the worst Palestinian-Israeli violence, particularly on Fridays when thousands of Palestinians gather at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, for the weekly prayers.

It is also a time when Palestinian Muslims, like their co-religionists across the world, seek to be closer to God with the dawn-to-dusk fast and overnight prayers.

Continuing Israeli security sweeps in search of militants during Ramadan would certainly draw a violent response from the Palestinians.

The Egyptian officials said the US has offered the Palestinians some guarantees to ensure their participation in the Sharm El Sheikh talks, but they did not elaborate.

They said Sunday's meeting was the fruition of weeks of behind-the-scenes talks that involved US, Egyptian and Jordanian officials.

The Sharm El Sheikh meeting underlines the key role played by Egypt in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Egypt, a US ally and the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel back in 1979, shares a border with both Israel and the Gaza Strip. It had in the past mediated an end to hostilities between Israel and Hamas, including the May 2022 war.

It's also been mediating between rival Palestinian factions while tirelessly calling for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which stalled years ago.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 4:57 PM