Israeli escalation on the West Bank -

22 March, Wednesday

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Israeli escalation on the West Bank

Five Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank this week, part of an ongoing Israeli escalation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, writes Mohamed Abu Shaar

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Five Palestinians were shot dead on Monday morning at the Aqabat Jabr Refugee Camp in Jericho in the east of the West Bank this week. It was part of the deadliest escalation by Israel in the West Bank, which has thus far left 42 Palestinians dead and dozens injured.
The Israeli army said it was in pursuit of an armed cell in Jericho when the shooting happened, claiming the cell was responsible for a shooting at a restaurant frequented by Israelis a few days earlier. The army claimed it then clashed with the armed men and killed them.
Four of the five men who were killed belonged to one family, including two brothers, one of whom was a doctor and the other an engineer. In a rare admission, the Palestinian group Hamas said it had a military presence in the West Bank, and the five men were members of the group. It threatened Israel with escalating the resistance across the West Bank.
During the onslaught, Israel arrested one Hamas leader a day after the arrest of Khedr Adnan, a leader of the Islamic Jihad group. There has been extensive escalation between the group and Israel since August last year, triggered by the arrest of another Islamic Jihad leader Bassam Al-Saadi.
Jericho was one of the calmest cities in the West Bank before the Israeli army raided it twice in just a few days and announced that it had killed a group of Palestinians. The Israeli army then decided to withhold the bodies to see if they could be part of an exchange with Hamas, which has admitted capturing four Israelis, including two soldiers.
The raids raised widespread concern in Israel since it once considered Jenin and Nablus to be the only two hotspots in the West Bank. Israeli officials say that the presence of armed groups in Jericho is a warning sign of the danger of growing armed military cells across the West Bank.
The clashes will also likely unhinge the fragile calm between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, from where there have been repeated rocket launches towards Israeli settlements in response to the Israeli escalation in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the northern West Bank in late January.
Egypt has been working hard to restore calm and prevent further confrontations between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups in the West Bank. Cairo has hosted the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Islamic Jihad, Ziyad Al-Nakhleh, as well as political and military officials from both groups.
Antwan Shahlat, a political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Egypt’s efforts are “key to a truce between the Palestinians and Israelis, and Cairo will continue to exert pressure to prevent another military confrontation in Gaza and to restore calm in the West Bank.”
Egypt’s efforts are supported regionally and globally, which gives weight to its efforts, Shahlat said. Egypt’s role also aligns with the desire of several Palestinian parties, he said, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), to prevent an explosive situation on the ground.
The escalation comes on the heels of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel and the West Bank in early February, which was preceded by a trip to Cairo to discuss issues including the tensions in the Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian presidency issued a statement after the Israeli invasion of the refugee camp in Jericho, asserting that Israel was challenging international efforts to end the escalation in the Palestinian Territories.
“The global silence regarding the occupation’s violations and crimes encourages it to commit more massacres against the Palestinian people,” the statement said.
Despite reports in Israel and the US that Blinken exchanged suggestions with Palestinian and Israeli officials on restoring calm in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under the thumb of extremist elements in his government, declared that the Israeli army would continue operations in the West Bank.
 Netanyahu also took additional steps that are likely to further aggravate the escalation with the Palestinians, most notably the Israeli government’s approval of building more Israeli settlements for 500 families close to the Gaza Strip. This is a move that consecutive Israeli governments had earlier avoided.
 The Israeli government will begin promoting a new settlement development called Hanon in response to growing demands for this type of settlement. Netanyahu views the step as “a response to the terrorism” emanating from the Gaza Strip.
The armed Palestinian factions in Gaza have begun to take steps to shatter the truce by repeatedly launching rockets from the Gaza Strip, three in less than one month. The Israeli army has also intercepted a drone above Gaza.
Netanyahu’s right wing cabinet allies reject the Israeli policy on Gaza that was a feature of Netanyahu’s previous government. That government was defeated by the cabinet of change led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
To pressure Netanyahu to take more hardline positions against the Palestinians, Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir has threatened to resign and abandon Netanyahu’s coalition if he does not adopt harsher policies.
Ben-Gvir has strongly criticised the government’s policies and allegedly lax handling of the Gaza Strip. He has said that if he fails to lead a major change on these issues within eight months, then he will reconsider his participation in the coalition and resign his post.
He has also demanded that the Israeli government “liquidate key Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip” due to recent rocket launches from Gaza into southern Israel. This also coincides with wider Israeli accusations against Netanyahu’s government of failing to achieve security, especially with the escalating security tensions in the West Bank.
If Ben-Gvir or any member of Netanyahu’s coalition government withdraws, the government would fall and Israel would again return to the polls to elect another parliament.
This is an event that has occurred five times in four years. Any political instability caused by Netanyahu’s allies would also further weaken the government in the face of pressures from the Israeli streets, where tens of thousands of protesters are marching against Netanyahu’s government and its proposed judicial reforms.

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