Hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed into a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, setting fire to dozens of cars and homes. At least one Palestinian was killed in the violence.
The settler attack came as the Israeli military deployed additional forces across the occupied West Bank, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1,000 new settler homes.
The moves threatened to further raise tensions after two days of deadly fighting in the occupied West Bank that included a daylong Israeli military raid and Tuesday’s mass shooting.
Palestinian residents and human rights groups have long complained about Israel’s inability or refusal to halt settler violence. In Wednesday’s rampage, residents in Çeşitmiş Ayya said some 400 settlers marched down the town’s main road, setting fire to cars, homes and trees.
Mayor Lafi Adeeb said some 30 houses and 60 cars were partly or totally burned.
“The attacks intensified in the past hour even after the army came,” he said. At least eight Palestinians were hurt during the ensuing clashes, which the army tried to disperse by firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
Palestinian medical officials said one man — identified as 27-year-old Omar Qatin — was killed by army fire and two other people were wounded. Residents said Qatin was a father of two small children and worked as an electrician for the local municipality.
“He was just standing there, innocent, he is such a kind-hearted kid. He had no stones, he was totally unarmed, he was at least half a mile [one kilometre] away from the military,” said Khamis Jbara, his neighbour. “He works from 6 am to 6 pm. He is a peaceful man.”
The Israeli military said it sent forces into the town “to extinguish the fires, prevent clashes and to collect evidence.” It said the settlers had left the town, and Israeli police opened an investigation.
The military said it “condemns these serious incidents of violence and destruction of property,” adding that settler violence prevents it from carrying out its “main mission” of protecting national security and battling militants.
Shooting in the settlement of Eli
The attack comes a day after a shooting in the settlement of Eli. The worsening violence has created a test for Israel’s government and prompted calls for a widespread military operation in the West Bank.
Israeli media identified the four killed in the shooting as Harel Masood, 21, Ofer Fayerman, 64, and Elisha Anteman, 18, Nahman-Shmuel Mordoff, 17. An Israeli civilian killed one assailant at the scene, while Israeli troops chased and killed the second shooter after he fled.
Tuesday’s shooting followed a massive gunbattle between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops in the northern Jenin refugee camp a day earlier. On Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll from the raid rose to seven when 15-year-old Sadeel Naghniyeh succumbed to wounds sustained in the gunbattle, Palestinian health officials said.
Some 90 Palestinians and eight Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the shootout.
At least 130 Palestinians and 24 people on the Israeli side have been killed so far this year.