LONDON– A group of European countries on Saturday expressed “great concern” that recent violence in the West Bank could derail efforts to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, as they urged both sides to restore calm.
The UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain issued a joint statement condemning attacks on Israelis and Palestinians following an outbreak of violence that killed three people in the occupied West Bank city of Hawara.
“These acts have nowhere to go but more violence,” European nations said. “Those responsible must face full accountability and legal prosecution. All unilateral actions that threaten peace and incite violence must stop.”
Scores of Israeli settlers rampaged in Hawara on February 26, setting dozens of cars and houses on fire after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Palestinian medics said one man was killed and four others seriously injured in one of the worst outbreaks of settler violence in decades.
The violence came on the same day that Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Aqaba, Jordan, with US, Egyptian and Jordanian officials for the first high-level talks in years aimed at defusing tensions in the regions.
The attacks cast doubt on a statement released after the talks, in which Israeli and Palestinian officials reiterated their commitment to “de-escalation on the ground” and the need to prevent further violence.
Tensions in the West Bank have increased sharply in recent months. Almost daily Israeli arrest raids have sparked shootings that have killed over 60 Palestinians so far this year – the highest death toll in the first two months of the year since 2000.
Hawara, a town of 7,000 Palestinians surrounded by ideological Jewish settlements, has long been a flashpoint of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The six European nations said the talks in Aqaba created a “spark of hope” and they urged both sides to work towards a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.
“We call on all parties not to derail this fragile process and call on all parties to honor the commitments they made at the Aqaba meeting by de-escalating in words and actions and restoring calm so that these.” Efforts succeed,” they said.
They also called on the Israeli government to reverse a recent decision to authorize the construction of more than 7,000 new housing units in the West Bank and to legalize other settlements.
Israel’s new government, the most right-wing in its history, has vowed to expand settlements on occupied lands the Palestinians aspire to for a future state. Most of the world sees the Israeli settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace.