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Amid escalation, CIA chief said visiting Israel, West Bank

CIA director Bill Burns is visiting Israel and the West Bank, where he will hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and intelligence chiefs in a bid to help de-escalate tensions between the sides, the Walla news site reported Friday.

Burns arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the report said, citing two US sources. His arrival coincides with a major flare-up in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

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

The report said that while Burns’s visit was pre-planned and part of a larger US diplomatic effort that includes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the region early next week, he would likely take a major role in working to calm the situation.

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

Overnight Palestinian terror groups in Gaza fired several rockets toward southern Israel and Israeli Air Force warplanes carried out sorties in the Strip. There were no injuries reported on either side and a tense calm held on Friday morning.

Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City as Israel launched air strikes on the Palestinian enclave following rocket fire early on January 27, 2023. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

In the wake of the raid Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office announced that it was halting security ties with Israel — coordination that the IDF has long credited for maintaining stability and preventing terror in the West Bank.

The CIA maintains close ties with PA security and Burns was likely to push for the resumption of coordination with Israel the report said, adding to the ongoing efforts of the Biden administration, which said Thursday that it was working to restore calm.

“A number of us have been working the phones since early this morning to get an understanding of what’s developing and to urge de-escalation and coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said in a phone briefing with reporters, previewing Blinken’s trip to Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah that will span 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 to take at this moment. Far from stepping back on security coordination, we believe it’s quite important that the parties retain, and if anything, deepen security coordination.”

She also expressed her concern over civilian casualties but acknowledged the Israeli assertion that the Jenin raid was necessary due to a “ticking time bomb of a terrorist threat.”

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

While working to maintain ties between Israeli and PA leaders was already on the agenda for Blinken’s trip, Thursday’s deadly violence will likely add increased 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…

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