Palestinian president, Israeli leaders speak before Biden visit

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held rare meetings and calls with Israeli leaders in an effort to calm tensions and coordinate security measures days before US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the region.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid had separate calls with Abbas on Friday, official statements said, following a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday.

Lapid and Abbas discussed “continued cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” the prime minister’s office said, in the first call between the two since Lapid took over as caretaker prime minister in Israel last week ahead of elections on November 1.

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Gantz said on Twitter that Thursday's meeting “was conducted in positive terms” and 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 Biden’s visit, which we welcome.”

It was the third known meeting between Abbas and Gantz since August last year.

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 US 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. US-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.

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