JERUSALEM — A gunman fatally shot two Israeli civilians on Sunday as they drove through a Palestinian town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, even as Israeli, Arab and U.S. officials were attending a summit in Jordan to discuss ways to de-escalate rising tensions in the area.
At the conclusion of the one-day meeting — described by the hosts as the first of its kind in many years — the Jordanian government and the State Department issued a joint statement saying the Israeli and Palestinian sides had reaffirmed their commitment to all previous agreements, as well as to the need to prevent further violence.
Attended by senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt, as well as representatives of the Biden administration, the meeting reflected a level of pragmatism on the part of Israel’s two-month-old government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in the country’s history.
It also illustrated Washington’s desire for understandings to underpin regional calm and to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.
But there were few signs of significant progress, beyond the fact that the sides had met, and one other main outcome: Jordan said the five parties had agreed to meet again next month, in Egypt before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In Israel, the meeting was overshadowed by Sunday’s shooting, which the Israeli military described as a Palestinian terrorist attack just south of the city of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and which came four days after a deadly Israeli military raid in that city. The army said that the raid was aimed at arresting Palestinian gunmen from a local group that was responsible for killing an Israeli soldier in October and that was planning more attacks.
The victims of the assault were brothers, identified in the Israeli news media as Hillel Yaniv, 22, and Yagel Yaniv, 20, both residents of Har Bracha, a Jewish settlement in the hills above Nablus.
The gunman rammed the brothers’ car at a junction along the main road leading to Nablus and shot them at close range, according to images from the scene, witnesses and media reports.
The first two months of 2023 have been among the deadliest in years for both Palestinians and Israelis, resulting from a sharp increase in daytime military raids that have proved lethal as well as from a spate of terrorist attacks. The rising violence is what prompted the summit in Jordan ahead of Ramadan, which starts in less than four weeks.
A New Surge of Israeli-Palestinian Violence
A recent spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has stoked fears that tensions may further escalate.
In the past, Ramadan has been a time of heightened tensions and emotions which have periodically led to broader Israeli-Palestinian conflagrations.
About 60 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank in the past two months, most of them during raids and shootouts with the Israeli military. The attack on Sunday brought the number of Israelis killed this year by Palestinians to 13. Seven of them were killed in a mass shooting in late January, the day after a deadly Israeli Army raid left 10 Palestinians dead in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
The daytime raid on Wednesday in Nablus set off a four-hour gunfight with Palestinian armed groups that left eight Palestinian militants and two bystanders dead, according to Palestinian officials. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that a third Palestinian civilian, a 66-year-old man, died at a hospital hours later after inhaling tear gas during the raid.
Israeli arrest raids are often followed by reprisals from lone Palestinian gunmen, and Palestinian attacks on Israelis often prompt a spike in violence by settlers against Palestinians and their property.
Friction in the region has only intensified since Israel’s new right-wing government came to power at the end of 2022, which was also a bloody year, with the rise of local Palestinian armed groups and a wave of attacks against Israelis in the spring. The new government ultimately supports annexing all of the territory of the West Bank and has promised a more aggressive approach toward Palestinian assailants.
An Israeli parliamentary committee controlled by the government on Sunday advanced a bill calling for Israeli courts to be able to impose the death penalty on people convicted of murder in cases of political violence against Israeli citizens. The committee decided that after a preliminary vote in Parliament, the text of the bill would be referred to the security cabinet for further discussion.
“We will continue to act by all means — security, operational and legislative — to deter terrorists and to preserve the security of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement of the committee’s decision. The bill was sponsored by Jewish Power, a far-right party in the governing coalition led by the ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister for national security who was convicted in the past for incitement of anti-Arab racism and support for a terrorist group.
Sunday’s statement issued by Jordan and the United States said Israel had committed not to discuss the construction of new settlement houses for a period of four months, and not to authorize any new settlement outposts for a period of six months. But Mr. Netanyahu’s office already announced a week ago that it had informed the United States that it would hold off authorizing any more Jewish settlement outposts in the coming months.
That announcement explicitly excluded the 10 outposts that the Israeli government had just days earlier said that it was working to authorize.
The government has promised to grant retroactive authorization to dozens of outposts that were erected without government permission in the occupied West Bank, some of them decades ago.
The Israeli government has also approved plans in recent days for thousands of new settlement housing units. Most countries consider all the settlements to be a violation of international law.
Militant Islamic groups in Gaza have fired several rockets into southern Israeli airspace in recent weeks in response to Palestinian deaths, and Israel has retaliated by striking targets in Gaza.
Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, portrayed Sunday’s shooting as a “natural reaction” to Israel’s deadly operations, including the raid in Nablus last week. Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant faction, said the shooting was in line with its promise to avenge the killing of its commanders there. Both groups said they would continue to resist the Israeli occupation regardless of the summit in Jordan.
Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.