Tensions high in West Bank after deadly Israeli settler rampage

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A Palestinian is shot and killed as settlers backed by the Israeli army burn dozens of houses and cars in the occupied West Bank in revenge attacks.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank  Israeli settlers have carried out at least 300 attacks, including shootings and arson, in a rampage through Palestinian villages in the Nablus area of the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials say, in what has been described as a “pogrom”.

A 37-year-old Palestinian man identified as Samih al-Aqtash was shot in the stomach on Sunday night by settlers protected by the Israeli army in the village of Zaatara south of Nablus. He died of his injuries. The father of five returned home five days ago after volunteering to help earthquake survivors in Turkey.

At least 390 Palestinians were injured in the settler rampage across the villages of Huwara, Zaatara, Burin and Asira al-Qibliya – all south of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, adding that the majority were wounded from tear gas fired by the Israeli army as well as smoke inhalation from widespread fires set by the settlers.

Palestinian media reported stabbings and attacks with metal rods and rocks. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said one person was in hospital after being beaten in the head with a rock, causing fractures to the skull. Another person suffered a beating with a metal rod to the face.

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Settlers carried out the rampage shortly after a shooting by a Palestinian that killed two Israeli settlers in Huwara on Sunday [Shadi Jarar’ah/Al Jazeera]

Saddam Omar, a resident of Huwara, described the violence as “barbaric”.

“Yesterday we witnessed a new level of colonising settler crimes, where they aggressively attacked everything,” he told Al Jazeera on Monday.

“I mean literally shops, people, supermarkets, houses, trees, cars, car garages,” he said. “They tried to enter the houses. They burned almost everything.”

Omar added that the settlers “were 100 percent protected by the Israeli army”.

At least 30 Palestinian homes and 100 cars were set on fire by settlers, Ghassan Daghlas, the Palestinian Authority’s head of settlement monitoring for the northern West Bank, told Al Jazeera. There were no burn injuries to residents.

Daghlas said the attack was “unprecedented in terms of size and the short amount of time in which it took place,” adding that the Israeli army was a “partner” in the attacks.

Israel on Monday deployed hundreds more soldiers to the West Bank. Huwara, the main southern entrance into Nablus, was closed.

On Monday afternoon, dozens of armed settlers gathered in Huwara under Israeli army protection, raising fears of another attack.

Widespread condemnation

The settlers carried out their rampage shortly after two Israeli settlers were killed in a shooting by a Palestinian man in Huwara. The settlers were two brothers in their 20s who lived in the illegal settlement of Har Bracha south of Nablus.

The violence has been widely condemned by local and international politicians, NGOs and human rights groups.

“Scenes of burning houses and cars, assault on citizens, preventing fire trucks from reaching burned houses and assaulting ambulances transporting patients and injured – all these crimes must face international intervention soon to hold the occupation authorities and stop them,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement.

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Israeli rights groups Peace Now and B’Tselem described the attacks as a settler ‘pogrom’ [Shadi Jarar’ah/Al Jazeera]

“We hold the occupation authorities fully responsible for these heinous crimes, which reflect a systematic policy practiced by the Israeli government, whose ministers demonstrate their support for those crimes in violation of international laws,” he said, adding that a ministerial committee will be formed to compensate the people affected.

The Ramallah-based Al Haq rights groups said the attack was the “result of decades long impunity enjoyed by Israel & settlers for international crimes committed against Palestinians”.

Sami Abu Shahadeh, a Palestinian politician in the Israeli parliament, said: “The Zionist pogrom taking place in Huwara is a consequence of the Israeli government’s Jewish supremacist political platform.”

The Israeli rights groups Peace Now and B’Tselem also described the attacks as a settler “pogrom” supported by the Israeli government.

A number of foreign governments, including the United States and France, also issued condemnations on the attacks.

Rising settler attacks

Israeli settler attacks have consistently been rising for the past six years. Attacks on villages in the Nablus area, where there is a heavy settler concentration, have been increasing and becoming more organised over the past year.

Many of these incidents have been recorded on video that shows the attacks taking place under the protection or in coordination with the Israeli army, sometimes with soldiers and settlers shooting side by side.

In a statement on December 15, the United Nations said, “2022 is the sixth year of consecutive annual increase in the number of Israeli settler attacks in the occupied West Bank.”

“Disturbing evidence of Israeli forces frequently facilitating, supporting and participating in settler attacks, makes it difficult to discern between Israeli settler and state violence. Armed and masked Israeli settlers are attacking Palestinians in their homes, attacking children on their way to school, destroying property and burning olive groves, and terrorising entire communities with complete impunity,” the statement said.

In recent weeks, matters on the ground have become particularly tense after Israel carried out several large-scale raids in Palestinian cities, killing dozens of Palestinians.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded more than 100, the majority with live ammunition, during a raid on Nablus. It was the largest Palestinian death toll in a single Israeli military operation since 2005.

Less than a month prior, the Israeli army killed 10 Palestinians during an attack on the Jenin refugee camp, including two children and a 61-year-old woman.

The Israeli army and settlers have killed 67 Palestinians since the start of 2023, including 13 children. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the death toll is the highest in the past 22 years.

The developments on Sunday in Nablus happened during talks between Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials at the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Representatives from the US and Egypt also attended the meeting, which  was condemned and rejected by many Palestinians.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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