Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah on Thursday, Palestinian and Israeli sources revealed, days before U.S. President Joe Biden's first visit to the region.
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The sources said the meeting focused on preparations for Biden's tour next week, as well as an economic aid package and a series of measures to relax some Israeli restrictions on the West Bank.
Abbas was planning to raise several demands concerning Israel's military operations in the West Bank, a senior Palestinian official said, specifically the latest Israeli raids in the Jenin area, which have killed dozens of Palestinians, including veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh back in May.
A day after the meeting between Abbas and Gantz, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to his Palestinian counterpart. During the phone call, Herzog wished him, his family, his people, and all peoples in the region a happy Eid al-Adha – the “Feast of Sacrifice" that begins on Friday. The two leaders also spoke about Biden's visit next week.
The Israeli military has carried out near-daily raids in Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank following a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians earlier this year that killed 19 Israelis, with many of the attackers hailing from the Jenin area.
Most of the Palestinian killed were alleged to have opened fire on Israeli forces or hurled stones or firebombs at them. The dead also include at least two apparent passersby.
The investigation into Palestinian-American journalist Abu Akleh's death in May was also on the agenda for the Abbas-Gantz meeting, the Palestinian official said.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department said she was "likely" killed by an Israeli soldier, but the bullet – handed over for an Israeli analysis following American pressure – was too damaged to "reach a definite conclusion."
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Gantz met Abbas in August, in the first meeting of a senior Israeli government official with the Palestinian Authority's leader since 2010. The Israeli minister then hosted Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha'ayin in December, in what was Abbas' first public engagement in Israel since that same year.
Biden is scheduled to visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia on July 13-16. This will be his first visit to both Israel and the West Bank as president.