AMMAN - Jordan will host a meeting on Sunday between top Israeli and Palestinian security and political officials in hopes of halting a recent surge in violence that has stoked fears of wider escalation ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, officials said.
They said the one-day meeting in the Red Sea port of Aqaba will bring top Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs together for the first time in many years, along with representatives of key regional parties. U.S. President Joe Biden’s adviser on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, will also attend.
The discussions are part of Jordan's stepped-up diplomatic engagement with Washington and regional partner Egypt to restore calm in Israel and the Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank and rebuild trust between the two sides, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The meeting is aimed at giving Palestinians hope for a political future, a senior Jordanian official told Reuters. If its objectives are achieved, "it will be reflected on the ground with decreased tensions," he said.
The meeting offers a chance to halt a surge in Israeli-Palestinian clashes in recent months that has sparked Arab anger and international concern about a slide back to a wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Such a meeting has not happened in years... It's a major achievement to get them together," said the Jordanian official, who also requested anonymity.
In previous years, clashes have erupted between Israeli police and Palestinians around Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque at the height of the Ramadan fasting month that coincided with Judaism's Passover and Christian Easter.
Jerusalem is holy to all three faiths. Jordan is the custodian of al Aqsa, a major mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.
At least 62 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed this year, the Palestinian health ministry said. Ten Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist died in Palestinian attacks in the same period, according to Israel's foreign ministry.
Several Palestinian factions from armed groups within mainstream Fatah to Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jehad called on the Palestinian Authority to pull out of the meeting, saying it was a U.S.-led plot against Palestinian aspirations.
“You should announce your retreat from participating in this suspicious meeting and confront the occupation by all available means,” Basim Naeem, a senior official of the Islamist Hamas group that controls Gaza, said in a statement.
A statement by the Palestinian Authority said its delegation will call on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and move towards a peace deal that endorses a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Earlier this month, Jordan's King Abdullah met Biden and held talks with McGurk in which the United States - a staunch ally of Israel, Egypt and Jordan - warned of the threats to regional security and lobbied for a resumption of stalled U.S.-sponsored talks on Palestinian statehood.
In addition to averting violence, it is hoped Sunday's meeting will halt unilateral measures by Israel, the Jordanian official said. That "could eventually lead to further political engagement."
Jordan has been concerned about stepped-up Jewish settlement building, and has accused Israel of trying to change the status quo in Jerusalem's holy sites. Israel denies the allegation.
Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's return to power has deepened Arab worries over policies that include accelerated Jewish settlement-building and tougher security offensives in Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
Most world powers view as illegal the settlements Israel has built on land it captured in a 1967 war with Arab powers. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi Additional reporting from Nidal Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah ; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Kim Coghill