Military slows down West Bank raids ahead of Aqaba summit aimed at restoring calm

No reports of major IDF operations in Palestinian cities since deadly Nablus raid last week; security officials say army will operate only in urgent cases

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A Palestinian faces an Israeli military vehicle during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Zain Jaafar / AFP)
A Palestinian faces an Israeli military vehicle during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Zain Jaafar / AFP)

Ahead of a Jordan-hosted meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials Sunday whose goal is to restore calm to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip amid deadly violence, the Israeli military has paused its usual overnight arrest operations.

The talks come days after 11 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in a gun battle on Wednesday when Israeli troops raided the West Bank city of Nablus to arrest terror operatives. Palestinian terror groups said at least seven of those killed were their operatives. Another three were confirmed to have been civilians.

Intensifying unrest this year has sparked international concern after last year was the deadliest in the West Bank since United Nations tracking began. It also comes ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of particular sensitivity in Jerusalem.

Israel reportedly promised Palestinian officials to limit its entry into Palestinian towns in the near future in a bid to calm tensions ahead of the Sunday summit in Jordan.

Since the deadly Wednesday morning operation, the IDF has not conducted raids in the West Bank, which is unusual as the military has been conducting near-nightly arrest operations for the past year. There were no reports of major entry of troops to Palestinian towns overnight Wednesday, overnight Thursday, overnight Friday, overnight Saturday, or on Sunday morning.

The only other brief pause in military operations in the West Bank came at the time of US President Joe Biden’s visit to the region in July 2022.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, early December 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Security officials say the army will continue to act in the West Bank only in cases of “ticking time bombs” — Palestinians planning imminent terror attacks — or other urgent matters.

In one such case on Saturday, a Palestinian man who allegedly opened fire at a settlement, causing no injuries, was arrested several hours later in a Palestinian village.

The “political-security” meeting, to be held Sunday at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, will also be attended by US and Egyptian representatives.

View of the Jordanian city of Aqaba, as seen from the Israeli city of Eilat. November 10, 2019. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Saudi Arabia’s Asharq News reported that the Palestinian Authority team was expected to demand the cessation of Israeli raids and settlement activity while the PA seeks to reach an agreement with Palestinian armed groups to keep the calm.

The summit is aimed at boosting Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and solidifying understandings that had been reached recently regarding the steps that the two sides would take in order to de-escalate tensions, a Palestinian source familiar with the matter said.

Masked Palestinian gunmen fire during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Nablus, December 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Israeli security officials have warned over the past year that the PA was losing control of the northern West Bank to armed groups, especially in Jenin and Nablus.

Military officials say they seek to have the PA security services return to conducting arrest operations in Nablus, while recognizing the difficulty of a similar move in Jenin, which has long been neglected by the PA and is considered a hotbed of terrorism.

A nearly year-long Israeli anti-terror offensive in the West Bank has left over 220 Palestinians dead — the vast majority in clashes with Israeli troops but some under more questionable circumstances — including 60 killed since the start of the year, straining already frayed ties. The campaign was launched last year to stem a rash of deadly attacks on Israelis: 32 were killed in attacks in 2022, and this year alone, 11 have been killed in Palestinian terror attacks in East Jerusalem — 10 civilians and one Border Police officer.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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