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Palestinian leader, Israeli prime minister meet for the first time in years

RAMALLAH, West Bank ( Associated Press) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received a call from Israel’s acting prime minister, Yair Lapid, on Friday, the first such conversation between Abbas and Israel’s prime minister.

The call comes amid a rare flurry of high-level Israeli-Palestinian contacts ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week. The talks before the visit focused on de-escalation and security coordination.

A statement from Lapid’s office said he spoke with Abbas about the “need to continue co-operation and remain calm and calm”. Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior aide of Abbas, said Lapid congratulated Abbas on Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that begins on Saturday, and “briefly discussed the latest situation,” without elaborating.

Abbas welcomed Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to his headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday and also spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog over the phone.

The peace process collapsed more than a decade ago. High-level meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are rare and focus on day-to-day economic and security coordination.

Gantz met with Abbas twice last year to announce measures to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank.

Lapid and Gantz, both centrists, are serving in a caretaker capacity ahead of the November 1 election, in which religious and nationalist parties that take a tougher stance toward Palestinians are expected to vote in the Knesset, Israel. He will maintain his majority in Parliament.

Abbas is the head of the Palestinian Authority, which manages parts of the West Bank under interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s. He is deeply unpopular among PalestiniansIn large part because of their close security coordination with Israel.

Biden is expected to meet with the top leaders of Israel and Palestine next week.

Palestinians seek a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas that Israel occupied in the 1967 war.

Israel did not recognize East Jerusalem internationally and viewed the entire city as its capital. It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but imposed a crippling blockade when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’s forces two years later, limiting its authority to parts of the West Bank .

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