Israel-Palestinian tensions simmer as US envoy embarks to 'solidify' ceasefire

·4-min read

Israeli forces shot dead a knife attacker in Jerusalem Monday, police said, as Washington's top diplomat departed for a Middle East trip aimed at consolidating the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is due to arrive in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted the conflict between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip's Islamist rulers Hamas.

US President Joe Biden said his top envoy will meet "with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel's security," as well as seeking to rebuild ties with the Palestinians.

In a tweet, Blinken said the trip would aim to support "efforts to solidify a ceasefire".

While Gaza was calm on Monday, Israeli police said an attacker stabbed two young Israeli men in Jerusalem before police shot him dead.

Palestinian news agency WAFA identified the casualty as a 17-year-old Palestinian high school student from occupied east Jerusalem.

Hadassah medical centre in Jerusalem said it was treating two men in their twenties for stab wounds. The army identified one as a soldier.

The 11-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza sparked tensions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and amplified protests across the occupied West Bank.

Overnight Israeli forces rounded up 43 Palestinians in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Prisoners Club rights group said.

Israeli police, who operate in east Jerusalem, said late Sunday that they had arrested 1,550 suspects and had charged 150 over the past two weeks over "violent events".

- Sheikh Jarrah flashpoint -

Monday's fatal altercation took place a short distance from the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the site of regular protests against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in favour of Jewish settlers.

Tensions there built earlier this month to culminate in repeated clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli security forces inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, triggering initial volleys of rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel on May 10.

Subsequent Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people, the health ministry in Gaza says.

The figure include the bodies of four fighters that the Al-Qassam Brigades military wing of Hamas said Monday had been found in a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip.

Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian, and two Thai nationals, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.

- 'Years of neglect' -

Alongside meeting Israeli leaders, Biden said his secretary of state would also engage with the Palestinians.

Relations between Washington and the Palestinian Authority fell apart under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, who recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- a move that broke with decades of international consensus.

Blinken "will continue our administration's efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect," the US president said.

Biden said last week his country was committed to helping provide humanitarian relief and supporting reconstruction in Gaza "in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal".

Blinken's trip, in addition to meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, will take him to Cairo for consultations with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and then to Amman to speak with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Israel announced Monday it will from Tuesday allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing daily, rather than the time-limited openings seen of late.

Patients will be able to travel in and out of Gaza for treatment, and fishing off the enclave's coast will be permitted, said COGAT, the Israeli military body that administers civilian affairs in Palestinian territories.

An Israeli defence ministry official said Monday all aid to Gaza would have to bypass Hamas, and instead flow through an international "mechanism" to reach people directly.

Israel's defence ministry had earlier announced authorities had seized materials bound for Gaza before the latest war, allegedly destined for a Hamas "military... manufacturing site."

It also said Defence Minister Benny Gantz had signed orders to seize millions of shekels worth of gold amid suspicions Hamas was using it to fund "terrorism" in the West Bank.

Israel's air campaign has ravaged Gaza's infrastructure and left at least 6,000 people homeless, the UN's humanitarian agency says. Up to 800,000 are without access to clean water in the coastal enclave.

vid-bur-ah-dac/dwo

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting