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Israeli injured in West Bank shooting as talks seek 'calm'

1 year ago 59

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A shooting attack in the northern West Bank town of Huwara on Sunday left an Israeli seriously wounded, the army and rescuers said, as Israeli and Palestinian officials in Egypt agreed to "restore calm".

The attack in Huwara came three weeks after the fatal shooting of two Israeli settlers, also in the same occupied West Bank town, and adds to a surge in violence this year and fears of escalation during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starting in the coming week.

Officials from Egypt, Jordan and the United States attended the "extensive discussions on ways to de-escalate tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis", in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, according to a joint statement.

It said that, in efforts to "restore calm," both Israeli and Palestinian authorities agreed to "immediately work to end unilateral actions for three to six months," in a commitment similar to that made last month in Jordan, when both sides pledged to prevent more violence.

An Israeli government official, requesting anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the talks, implied a longer timeline.

The official said Sunday's renewed commitment to the agreements formulated at Aqaba included "holding a dialogue regarding possible agreements on the cessation of unilateral measures."

According to the joint statement, Israeli officials also committed "to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months" and to not legalise any unofficial wildcat outposts for six months.

The West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War, is home to hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.

The five parties will meet again in Egypt in April.

Sunday's talks took place as "a terrorist opened fire toward an Israeli vehicle" at a junction in Huwara town, the Israeli army said in a statement.

It added that "soldiers and one of the injured civilians responded with live fire toward the terrorist and hit him".

After initially fleeing the scene, Israeli forces "located the injured terrorist and apprehended him", the army said.

An Israeli soldier holds a position in Huwara following a shooting that wounded one Israeli

Tomer Fein, a rescuer from the Magen David Adom emergency response service, said medics found one wounded person "in serious condition, with wounds in the upper body".

A second person was "in a state of shock," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday: "Anyone trying to harm the citizens of Israel will pay the price."

According to the Israeli government official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, "to prevent escalation during Ramadan and after, we must act against terrorism with determination and without compromise."

Neither the militant group Hamas nor Islamic Jihad claimed the attack, but they released similarly-worded statements describing it as a "normal response to the crimes of the occupation".

- Revenge -

Ahead of the meeting, Hussein al-Sheikh, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) secretary general, said on Twitter that the Palestinian delegation would participate "to demand an end to the continuous Israeli aggression against us".

But militant Palestinian factions rejected the effort.

During the Jordan talks on February 26, when officials on both sides committed to "de-escalation", two Israelis were shot dead in an attack on their car in Huwara by a Palestinian member of Hamas.

That attack led to more unrest, when dozens of Israeli settlers attacked Huwara, burning cars and buildings in revenge.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the town to be "wiped out," a statement he walked back after it drew international condemnation.

A Palestinian boy peeps at Israeli soldiers patrolling Huwara

Days later, on March 7, during a raid on Jenin to the north of Huwara, the Israeli army said it killed Abdel Fatah Hussein Khroushah, 49, who it accused of killing the two settlers and called a "terrorist operative".

He was among six men killed during the raid, the Palestinian health ministry said, in clashes that the army said included soldiers launching shoulder-fired rockets amid ferocious gunfire.

Violence intensified last year but has worsened in the West Bank during the tenure of Netanyahu's government which took office in December, a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.

The government of Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has vowed to continue the expansion of West Bank settlements.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of 86 Palestinian adults and children this year, including militants and civilians.

Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

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