Palestinian president, Israeli defence minister meet before Biden visit

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Jerusalem (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz held a rare meeting in the occupied West Bank in an effort to calm tensions and coordinate security measures days before U.S. President Joe Biden’s first visit to the region.

Gantz said on Twitter that Thursday’s meeting in Ramallah “was conducted in positive terms” and that the two discussed “civilian and security challenges” in the region.

“We agreed to maintain close security coordination and to avoid actions that may cause instability,” Gantz said.

Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting signed agreements and stopping actions and measures that lead to the deterioration of the situation,” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said in a tweet.

Abbas also stressed the importance of having a “calm atmosphere before President Biden’s visit, which we welcome”.

It was the third known meeting between Abbas and Gantz since August last year, and the first since Yair Lapid took over as caretaker prime minister in Israel last week ahead of elections on Nov. 1.

Simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians grew more intense following the May 11 killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinians say Abu Akleh was shot deliberately by an Israeli soldier. Israel denies this. The U.S. State Department said on Monday that Abu Akleh was likely killed by gunfire from Israeli positions but it was probably unintentional.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank. U.S.-brokered talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory collapsed in 2014 and show no sign of revival.

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad condemned Thursday’s meeting in a statement.

“Insisting on communication and security meetings serves the interests and plans of the enemy (Israel) and gives it a free hand to practice the aggression our people are subjected to every day,” it said.