Palestinian gunman kills 2 as officials meet to discuss surge in violence

A Palestinian gunman killed two people when he opened fire at an Israeli car in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, casting a shadow on a high-level meeting between Palestinian and Israeli delegations meant to reduce surging violence ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli officials confirmed the deaths and politicians issued condemnations and condolences.

The region has seen skyrocketing tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli military over the past year. The military said it was searching for the attacker, who opened fire on a car on the West Bank’s main highway and fled.

West Bank settler leaders called on Israel to withdraw its delegation from the talks and crack down on the Palestinians, while Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, said no summit would stop Palestinians from resisting.

Israel said the prime minister’s national security adviser as well as the chief of the Shin Bet domestic security agency were to attend the talks in neighboring Jordan. The head of the Palestinian intelligence services as well as advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas were expected to join.

The presence of top officials at the meeting, as well as delegations from Egypt, Jordan and the United States, underscored the severity of the crisis. It was also a rare high-level meeting between the sides, coming during a time of rising tensions and after the Palestinians cut security coordination with Israel over the violence.

Abbas’ office said the Palestinians would “stress the need to stop all Israeli unilateral actions.” An Israeli official said the meeting was meant to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and came after an American request.

The meeting’s Palestinian attendees were confirmed by a Palestinian official. A Jordanian official also said the meeting was meant to stop “Israeli unilateral actions,” build confidence and lead to more comprehensive contacts between the sides. He said the meeting will take place in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba, Jordan.

All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the meeting with the media.

Palestinians who oppose any official engagement with Israel said they would protest the meeting, while Hamas criticized the meeting. It called Sunday’s shooting “a natural reaction” to Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and resulting deaths.

“The resistance in the West Bank will remain present and growing, and no plan or summit will be able to stop it,” said spokesman Hazem Qassem.

It’s not clear what the talks might achieve. Israel has pledged to continue fighting militants in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority often has little control. Israel also is led by a far-right government with members that oppose concessions to the Palestinians and favor settlement construction on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Last week, Israeli officials approved the building of over 7,000 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, according to activist groups that attended the planning meeting.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged since Israel stepped up raids across the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring. The bloodshed has spiked this year, with more than 60 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 13 people in 2023.

Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians say Israel is further entrenching its 55-year open-ended occupation of lands they want for a future state, as well as undermine their own security forces.

Ramadan this year coincides with the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover and worshippers from both faiths are expected to flock to the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, which are often a flashpoint for violence between the sides. Clashes erupted at a key Jerusalem holy site last year and tensions at the site helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in 2021.

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