Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Egypt

Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Egypt

Egypt is hosting senior officials from the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups as part of its efforts to end the deadliest bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years, Egyptian security officials said.

They said leaders of the the militant group Islamic Jihad have been in Cairo for several days talking to officials from the General Intelligence Directorate, which has for years been in charge of contacts with the Palestinians and the Israelis on security issues.

Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the group since 2007, are already in Egypt. Top leaders living in exile were expected to join them later this week, the officials said.

Egypt, which neighbours Israel and the Gaza Strip, has long mediated between the Palestinians and Israel, especially when the two sides engage in major hostilities. Egypt’s role, which is condoned by the United States, is helped by its diplomatic relations with Israel ― the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979 ― and its close links to Palestinian factions.

Egypt has also in the past repeatedly sought to reconcile rivals Hamas and Fatah, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. The two have been at odds for almost 20 years.

The Egyptian officials said meetings with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad would focus on calming tensions with Israel in the West Bank and persuading the two groups to exercise self-restraint in response to Israeli violence against civilians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The talks will also deal with the question of Palestinians held in Israeli jails and the possibility of freeing hundreds of them in exchange for Israeli prisoners or their remains held by Hamas

The latest major incident of Israeli-Palestinian violence was on Saturday, when six Palestinians were injured during an exchange of gunfire as Israeli troops raided a camp near the West Bank city of Jericho.

The raid came a day after the UN’s human rights chief expressed concerns that steps taken by the new Israeli government, the most far-right in the country’s history, could fuel further breaches of human rights and humanitarian law after a recent increase in violence in the region.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk cited steps such as forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes and government moves to expedite Israelis’ access to firearms. He called on leaders, officials and all on both sides to stop using language that incites hatred, and to shun violence.

An Israeli military raid last week killed 10 Palestinians — most of them militants — and a 61-year-old woman. A day later, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside an East Jerusalem synagogue, including a 14-year-old worshipper. That was followed by another shooting in East Jerusalem in which a 13-year-old Palestinian wounded two Israelis.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. About 30 people were killed in Israel by Palestinians in 2022.

The Israeli army said most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting against the Israeli incursions and others not involved in confrontations have been killed.

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