A Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers as they were driving in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, sparking attacks by Israeli settlers on houses and cars during which one Palestinian was killed, according to officials.
The unrest comes less than 24 hours after Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to de-escalate surging violence at a meeting on Sunday, issuing a joint statement in which Israel said it would halt discussions about new settlement units in the occupied West Bank for four months.
Israel‘s military said the gunman came to a junction “and opened fire towards an Israeli vehicle”.
It said the casualties near Hawara, an area that sees regular friction between Palestinians and settlers, were brothers from Har Bracha, a settlement 8 km (5 miles) away. One was a soldier in a program for Jewish seminary students.
After the shooting, Palestinians reported that Israelis from a nearby settlement had attacked Palestinian houses in the area.
A 37-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by an Israeli settler, the Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military, which was operating in the area, did not have any immediate comment.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held the Israeli government fully responsible for the attacks.
Hamas said the killings were “a natural response to crimes conducted by the occupation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said soldiers were pursuing the attacker, and the military said it had blocked off the area.
“I ask, even when the blood is boiling, not to take the law into one’s hands. I ask that the IDF and the security forces be allowed to carry out their work,” Netanyahu said.
European Union envoy to the Middle East Sven Koopmans said he was “alarmed by the spiral of violence” and called on all semblance to “act to end bloodshed and impunity immediately and prevent further losses”.
The violence echoed the need for de-escalation as officials for both sides had met amidst rising tensions to seek some semblance of peace.
Attended by senior U.S., Jordanian and Egyptian officials in addition to the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, the meeting in Aqaba, Jordan was the first of its kind in years.
The Israeli and Palestinian sides said in their statement that they would work closely to prevent “further violence” and “reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground”. They affirmed their commitment to previous agreements.
Jordan, along with its allies Egypt and the United States, said the understandings were “major progress towards re-establishing and deepening relations between the two sides”.
But underlining the challenges, Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, called the meeting “worthless”, and condemned the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for taking part.
The meeting was held as anxiety mounts of an escalation in violence in the run-up to the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that begins in late March.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority “confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months”, the statement said.
“This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”
‘NOT EVEN FOR ONE DAY’
That could cause trouble in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has responsibilities over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, quickly said he would not abide by any such agreement.
“I have no idea what they spoke about or not in Jordan,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter. “But one thing I do know: there will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day (it is under my authority).”
The Palestinians aim to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital – territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.
But peace talks have been stalled since 2014 and Palestinians say Jewish settlement expansion has undermined the chances of a viable state being established.
Israel on Feb. 12 granted retroactive authorization to nine Jewish settler outposts in the West Bank and announced mass-construction of new homes within established settlements.
A senior Israeli official said there would be no change to the previous decision regarding the authorization of those outposts and 9,500 housing units. Netanyahu seemed to downplay any commitment, saying Israel would continue settlement building along previous plans, and saying there “will not be any freeze”.
The U.N. Security Council issued a formal statement on Feb. 20 denouncing Israel‘s plan to expand settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, the first action the United States has allowed the body to take against its ally Israel in six years.
U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Jordan’s King Abdullah for “convening this historic gathering”, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
“We recognize that this meeting was a starting point and that there is much work to do over the coming weeks and months to build a stable and prosperous future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Implementation will be critical,” he said.
The participants will meet again in March in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They agreed to “maintain positive momentum and expand this agreement towards wider political process leading to a just and lasting peace”, their statement said.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the meeting would “not change anything”. “It will not succeed to prevent our people from defending themselves and confronting the crimes conducted by the government of the occupation”, he told Reuters.
Jerusalem is holy to all three faiths. Jordan’s Hashemite royal family is the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem.
Several Palestinian factions from armed groups within mainstream Fatah to Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad urged the PA to withdraw from the meeting, calling it a U.S.-led plot against Palestinian aspirations.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal.