Palestinian killed as Israeli settlers rampage through West Bank town

AP , Wednesday 21 Jun 2023

Hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed into a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, killing a Palestinian man and setting fire to dozens of cars and homes after days of Israeli military aggression.

Palestine West Bank raid
Palestinians are seen in their home behind a broken window, damaged by Israeli settlers, in the West Bank village of A Laban al-Sharkiyeh, Wednesday, June 21, 2023. AP


The settler attack came as the Israeli military deployed additional forces in the occupied West Bank, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1,000 new settler homes in response to the deadly shooting.

The moves threatened to further raise tensions after days of Israeli aggression in the West Bank that included a daylong military raid on the city of Jenin 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 Turmus 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, and that the attacks intensified even after the Israeli army arrived. At least eight Palestinians were hurt during the 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 kilometer) away from the military,” said Khamis Jbara, his neighbor. “He works from 6am to 6pm. He is a peaceful man.”

Palestinian residents of the town, known for its large number of American citizens, were seething and in shock after the attack.

Streets were littered with broken pots, uprooted trees, charred yard furniture and skeletons of cars. At least one house was completely torched, the living room blackened, the furniture burned to ashes.

“It was terrifying, we just saw mobs of people in the streets, masked, armed,” said Mohammed Suleiman, a 56-year-old Palestinian-American who lives in Chicago and was visiting his hometown. He said his brother, who is currently in Chicago, owns one of the burned houses.

Suleiman blamed the Israeli military, saying the soldiers turned their guns on the Palestinian residents instead of the vandals marching into the town with guns and firebombs, throwing fuel oil and setting alight everything in their path. The army was "literally clearing the way for them,” he said.

Abdulkarim Abdulkarim, a 44-year-old resident of Ohio, said his family’s four cars were burned and house damaged. “They call us terrorists but here you have terrorism supported by the government,” he said.

In the home of the Shalaby family, eight children hid on the third floor when they saw a mob of masked settlers slash tires and throw fuel on three cars. Within moments, their front yard erupted into a giant fireball. At least one of the armed settlers burst through the front door, trashing the sunroom and breaking windows.

“I just kept thinking I was going to die,” said 15-year-old Mohammed Awwad, an American citizen from northern California who was visiting his grandparents. He was removing pieces of glass from his foot as his family packed up their valuables to take to an aunt’s house in the hills, fearing the settlers’ return.

Turmus Ayya, a town with luxurious villas with gardens and views of rolling olive groves, is frequently a target of settler attacks from the nearby Shilo settlement. Tayem Abu Awwad, whose old car was torched in a separate attack last week, said his brand new Toyota was charred in Wednesday's rampage.

The settler attack brought back memories of a rampage last February in which dozens of cars and homes were torched in the town of Hawara following the killing of a pair of Israeli brothers by a Palestinian gunman.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited Turmus Ayya to inspect the damage. Local criticism of the Palestinian Authority has intensified over its weakness in the face of settler attacks.

As he spoke, expressing solidarity with the residents and appealing to the United States to intervene — given the high percentage of American citizens in the town — one resident shouted at him that “no one should have to bear what we went through” and demanded the authority “do more to protect its people.”

Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab countries to make peace with Israel, both condemned the settler violence and called for an immediate end to the attacks.

Netanyahu criticized the settler violence, as well as unrelated protests by Druze Arabs in the Golan Heights that turned violent.

“We will not accept any provocations to the police or the security forces in these places or anywhere else,” he said. “We are a nation of laws.”

Tuesday's shooting in the settlement of Eli came a day after seven Palestinians were killed (and dozens injured) during a deadly Israeli military raid on the West Bank city of Jenin. The worsening violence has created a test for Israel’s government and prompted calls for a widespread military operation in the West Bank.

As Israel deployed more forces to the area, Netanyahu said he had approved plans to build 1,000 new homes in Eli.

The international community opposes settlements on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians for a future independent state. Netanyahu's far-right government is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.

Palestinian officials said the death toll from Monday's army raid in Jenin rose to seven after 15-year-old Sadeel Naghniyeh succumbed to wounds sustained in the gunbattle. Some 90 Palestinians, and eight Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the shootout.

The long string of violence in the region over the past year and half shows no sign of relenting. At least 130 Palestinians and 24 people on the Israeli side have been killed so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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