Amid escalation, CIA chief said he will visit Israel and the West Bank

CIA Director Bill Burns is visiting Israel and the West Bank, where he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and intelligence chiefs in a bid to help reduce tensions between the parties, the Walla news site reported on Friday.

Burns arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday, according to the report, which cites two US sources. His arrival coincides with a major outbreak of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The CIA declined to comment on Burn’s visit, which comes after a trip to Egypt.

The report says that while Burns’ visit was pre-planned and part of a broader US diplomatic effort that includes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the region early next week, it is likely to play an important role. important role at work to defuse the situation.

nine palestinians were killed in an IDF raid on Jenin in the West Bank on Thursday morning, including at least one civilian. The remaining deaths were members of various terror groups, according to Palestinian media. The IDF said the operation was necessary to thwart an imminent terror threat and arrest suspects who had already been involved in attacks against Israel.

Palestinian terror groups overnight in Gaza fired several rockets into southern Israel and Israeli Air Force fighter jets made sorties into the Strip. No injuries were reported on either side and a tense calm held Friday morning.

Fire and smoke billow over buildings in Gaza City as Israel launched airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave following rocket fire on January 27, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In the aftermath of the raid, the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that it would suspend security ties with Israel, coordination that the IDF has long credited with maintaining stability and preventing terrorism in West Bank.

The CIA maintains close ties to Palestinian Authority security and Burns is likely to push for coordination with Israel to resume, according to the report, adding to ongoing efforts by the Biden administration, which said Thursday that he was working to restore calm.

“Several of us have been working on the phones since early this morning to understand what is unfolding and to urge detente and coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces,” said the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf. a telephone briefing with journalists, in which Blinken’s trip to Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah was anticipated, which will last from Sunday to Tuesday.

Laef also focused on restoring security coordination as a priority.

Leaf said: “We don’t think this is the right step at this time. Far from taking a step back in security coordination, we believe that it is very important that the parties maintain and, in any case, deepen security coordination”.

He also expressed concern about civilian casualties, but acknowledged the Israeli claim that the Jenin raid was necessary because of a “terrorist threat time bomb.”

Palestinians carry the bodies of four of the 9 victims reported killed during an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, during their funeral procession in Jenin, on January 26, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

While working to maintain ties between Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders was already on the agenda for Blinken’s trip, Thursday’s deadly violence will likely add further urgency to the matter.

In a statement, the State Department said it was “deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the West Bank” but acknowledged “the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Relations between Jerusalem and Ramallah were already strained by the return of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the presidency a month ago, bringing with him the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history. One of the first steps taken by his cabinet was to impose a series of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, withholding tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that Jerusalem collects on behalf of Ramallah in response to the successful Palestinian effort at the UN, forcing the Court International Court of Justice to give an opinion on Israel’s conduct in the territories.

The United States condemned the Israeli sanctions and the Palestinian initiative at the UN as useless measures that alienate the parties from peace.

Blinken will arrive in Israel on Monday, less than two weeks after a similar visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

From left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on 19 January 2023. (Miri Shimonovich/GPO)

The State Department reading on Blinken’s trip said the secretary would discuss standard issues of US concern in his meetings with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and other top Israeli officials. Those topics included threats posed by Iran, Israel’s deepening integration into the region, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the importance of a two-state solution.

Blinken will travel to Ramallah on Tuesday, where he will meet with Abbas and his top advisers to discuss many of the same issues, as well as boost US-Palestinian ties.

“With Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Secretary will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to reduce tensions in order to end the cycle of violence that has claimed far too many innocent lives. He will also speak about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in words and in deeds,” the State Department said. “The Secretary will engage with civil society throughout the trip to underscore our commitment to human rights, support for civil society, and the enduring importance of people-to-people ties.”

Blinken will spend Sunday in Cairo, meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and senior Egyptian officials to discuss bilateral relations, the Negev Forum, the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and other regional affairs, the State Department said.

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