Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, and a senior Palestinian official have discussed violence in the occupied West Bank, with Gallant’s office saying he offered reassurance about Israel’s intention to crack down on Israeli settlers who have attacked Palestinian communities.
The announcement on Tuesday that discussions had taken place between Israeli and Palestinian officials comes amid mounting expressions of concern by the United States about the situation in the occupied West Bank and calls by the United Nations Security Council for all parties to work to deescalate tensions, the Reuters news agency reported.
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“Israel views with gravity the violence inflicted upon Palestinian civilians in recent days by extremist elements,” Gallant’s office quoted him as telling Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestine Authority.
“Israel would exact full penalty of the law from the rioters,” Gallant added, according to the statement in which he described the calming of tensions in the occupied West Bank as being a common interest for Al-Sheikh.
There was no immediate comment from Al-Sheikh’s office.
Israel’s military, police and domestic security service chiefs issued a joint statement on Saturday following a string of Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian villages in the previous week, stating they would take countermeasures against what was described as “nationalist terrorism”.
The UN Security Council on Tuesday “called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that further inflame tensions” and urged restraint to prevent further escalation.
‘Extreme levels of settler violence’
The Security Council statement followed an address by UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland in which he described “an alarming spike in violence” in the West Bank that had led to numerous Palestinian and Israeli casualties. The envoy warned the council that “unless decisive steps are taken now to rein in the violence, there is a significant risk that events could deteriorate further”.
.@TWennesland in the Security Council: "Israel, as the occupying Power, has an obligation to protect Palestinians and their property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to ensure prompt, independent, impartial, and transparent investigations into all acts of violence." https://t.co/8h8BLqbgpl pic.twitter.com/ocM2owHKXd
— UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (@UNDPPA) June 27, 2023
Wennesland said he was particularly alarmed by “the extreme levels of settler violence, including large numbers of settlers, many armed, systematically attacking Palestinian villages, terrorising communities”, sometimes with support from Israeli forces.
“Israel, as the occupying power, has an obligation to protect Palestinians and their property in the occupied Palestinian territory and to ensure prompt, independent, impartial, and transparent investigations into all acts of violence,” he said.
He also warned that Israel’s “relentless expansion” of illegal settlements was heightening violence and “impeding access by Palestinians to their land and resources, reshaping the geography of the occupied West Bank and threatening the viability of a future Palestinian state”.
The US, Israel’s closest ally, supported the council statement on Tuesday and its deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, told the council that President Joe Biden’s administration shared Wennesland’s alarm at the situation in the occupied West Bank.
“We call on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions, including settlement activity, evictions, and the demolition of Palestinian homes, terrorism and incitement to violence, all of which serve to only further inflame the situation,” Wood said.
This year has been one of the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and last week saw a significant escalation in settler violence.
At least 137 Palestinians have also been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank so far in 2023. On the Israeli side, 24 people had been killed in Palestinian attacks.
‘There is no help on the way’
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, said the Israeli settlers know their actions are condemned worldwide but they have military, financial and political support from the Israeli government, while the Palestinians have no real support to rein them in despite having “the moral high ground” and international law on their side.
The Palestinians are more convinced every day that “there is no help on the way”, Mansour said, urging the UN council: “Show them that help is on the way.”
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from the UN in New York, noted that it was unusual for the US to join in “criticism of Israel” at the UN Security Council meeting.
The UN also on Tuesday published its annual report on children killed and injured in armed conflicts around the world, which includes a blacklist of armies and armed groups that have harmed children.
“Once again, this year, Israel was not put on that list,” Bays said, explaining that the UN maintained that Israeli forces had killed and maimed fewer Palestinian children in 2022 than a year earlier.
But, so far this year, Israeli forces had already killed 27 children and Bays asked the UN’s special representative for children in armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, why Israel has not been placed on the blacklist.
“That’s why we’re very worried, as we say we’re very concerned at an escalation we’re noticing this year,” Gamba told Bays.
According to Bays, Russia has been placed on the blacklist for the first time ever, owing to its war in Ukraine. But Israel has never been listed despite killing Palestinian children each year.
“Human rights groups say they fear the blacklist is becoming a whitewash,” Bays added.