Israel, PA set for Sunday summit in Egypt as terror alerts rise before Ramadan

Army chiefs said worried by confluence of agitating elements, frustrated at Itamar Ben Gvir’s actions on the ground that could exacerbate unrest

Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp during an Israeli army raid, March 7, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)
Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp during an Israeli army raid, March 7, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

Israeli, Palestinian, American, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are set to convene Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for a summit aimed to help foster regional calm ahead of the sensitive Ramadan period, which begins next week.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi is set to lead the Israeli team, as he did at a previous summit in Jordan’s Aqaba in February. Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and Brig. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the military liaison to the Palestinians, will also attend.

Israel committed to halting new settlement projects at the Aqaba talks, according to a joint communiqué issued after the meeting, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly denied there would be any construction freeze over the Green Line.

According to the joint readout from last month’s gathering, Israel and the Palestinian Authority also agreed to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence ahead of the Muslim holy month. The two sides agreed to “immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months,” said the readout of that meeting.

A top PA official later told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem had also committed to transfer millions of dollars in tax revenues it has withheld from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, but had not done so.

“They promised at Aqaba that they would transfer all of the funds, but as of now we haven’t gotten anything,” PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said in early March. Al-Sheikh also serves as secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and is one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers.

View of the Old City, Al Mustafa Mosque and the Red Sea at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. (ioanna_alexa, January 30, 2020, iStock by Getty images)

Al-Sheikh lamented then that even the commitments that were put in writing in the communiqué were not being taken seriously by the Israeli government. This, he said, was putting the planned follow-up in Sharm el-Sheikh at risk.

According to a Friday report, with Ramadan starting next week, top security officials have warned the government of increased alerts of potential Palestinian terror attacks, while expressing frustration at some of its members’ conduct as unhelpful,

Haaretz said that in a recent meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, military officials said Israel’s ongoing internal unrest, the falling popularity of the Palestinian Authority, a rise in nationalist Jewish attacks and the actions of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir are all contributing to a highly volatile state in the West Bank.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir seen at the entrance to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to the paper, the army leaders spoke particularly critically of police minister Ben Gvir, who has been ordering increased demolition of illegal construction in East Jerusalem. Such action a week before Ramadan, they reportedly said, was done in utter disregard for the potential security consequences and the recommendations of security chiefs.

The far-right Ben Gvir has vowed to take a more aggressive stance against Palestinian homes that were built without the necessary permits from Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He has framed demolition of such structures as part of Israel’s efforts to combat Palestinian terror, though there have been no links between the owners of homes razed for a lack of permit in recent weeks and security offenses.

He has reportedly clashed with the military, the prime minister and top police officials on his maximalist approach.

Shortly after three Israelis, including 6- and 8-year-old brothers, were killed in a ramming attack in Jerusalem last month, Ben Gvir said he’d told police to gear up for a major anti-terror crackdown in East Jerusalem within days, comparing his plans to a massive 2002 military campaign against West Bank terror groups. However, Ben Gvir lacked the authority to approve such an operation on his own and his comments were dismissed by a senior government official.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Those tensions have ramped up even further in recent weeks, featuring a cycle of deadly Israeli raids and Palestinian revenge attacks, as well as an uptick in settler violence.

On Thursday four Palestinians, at least two of whom were members of terror groups, were shot dead by undercover Israeli forces during a daytime raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, the military and Palestinian media reports said.

In a joint statement with the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency, police said members of the elite Yamam counterterrorism unit entered Jenin and “neutralized” two wanted Palestinian gunmen, after receiving intelligence about their whereabouts.

The Palestinian Authority health ministry said four people were killed and at least 23 others were hurt in the raid, five of them seriously.

According to the Shin Bet, one of the wanted men was involved in advancing “significant terrorist activity,” and the other was involved in the production of explosive devices and shooting at IDF forces in the West Bank.

Police said the Yamam officers opened fire and killed a third suspect who attempted to attack forces with a crowbar, and shot at several other gunmen in the area.

Graphic footage taken from a building above the scene showed the undercover forces shooting one of the wounded gunmen who was lying on the ground in the head from a close range.

Israeli forces shoot a wounded Palestinian gunman dead in the West Bank city of Jenin, March 16, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)

On Sunday, Israeli troops killed three members of the Nablus-based Lion’s Den terror group.

Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 14 Israelis dead and several more seriously hurt.

At least 84 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

Over the past year, Gaza-based groups — notably Islamic Jihad — have launched rockets at Israel in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.

Emanuel Fabian and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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