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Israeli settlers attack West Bank town after shooting

June 21, 2023

The third day of tit-for-tat attacks in the occupied West Bank has led to the death of at least one Palestinian. Israel has said it will build 1,000 more settlement homes despite international calls to halt the plans.

A Palestinian man inspects scorched cars in the West Bank village of al-Lubban al-Sharqiyyah
Dozens of cars and houses were set alight by Israeli settlers in towns and cities in the occupied West Bank, residents and local officials said Image: Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo/picture alliance

A large group of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank marched through a Palestinian town on Wednesday, setting fire to cars and buildings, and leaving at least one man dead, residents and officials said.

The attack came a day after Palestinian gunmen shot and killed four Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Some 200 Israelis took part in the organized attack on the town of Turmus Ayya, the Jerusalem Post reported citing defense officials. Local officials said around 30 houses and 60 cars were partially or totally burned in the town.

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said on Tuesday that the shooting had itself been retribution for a raid by Israeli forces on the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin that killed at least seven Palestinians and injured over 90 others.

While Hamas did not officially claim responsibility for Tuesday's shooting, it did say that the two Palestinian gunmen were members of the group, the Associated Press reported. The European Union, the United States, Japan and several other nations have named Hamas as a terrorist organization.

What happened in Turmus Ayya?

A 27-year-old man was killed "after being shot in the chest," Palestinian health officials said in a statement.

Health officials said he was killed by army fire while two other people were wounded.

The man's neighbor, Khamis Jbara, told the Associated Press that the 27-year-old was "innocent" and that he "had no stones, he was totally unarmed."

Four Israelis killed in West Bank

Other residents blamed the Israeli military for the escalation of violence, saying that they did not stop the settlers who were attacking the town.

"Settlers shot at us and when the police and the Israeli army arrived they shot at us with rubber bullets and fired tear gas," local resident Awad Abu Samra told news agency AFP.

Similar reports of attacks came from other West Bank towns and cities.

Yaqoub Oweis, chairman of the village council of al-Lubban al-Sharqiyya, close to the Eli settlement where Tuesday's shooting took place, told Reuters that Israeli soldiers had stood by as settlers burned down a petrol station, orchards, a cement factory and dozens of cars.

How have Israeli officials responded?

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that hundreds of Israeli settlers had set fire to vehicles and buildings in Turmus Ayya on Wednesday. They issued a statement condemning the violence.

"The IDF condemns these serious incidents of violence and destruction of property. Such events prevent the IDF and security forces from focusing on their main mission — maintaining the security of the State of Israel and preventing terrorism," the armed forces said in a statement. 

The initial statement did not address reports of the 27-year-old Palestinian's death.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also released a statement on the latest violence, saying "all citizens of Israel are obligated to obey the law." He added that he gives "full backing to the Israel Police and the security forces in their efforts to maintain law and order."

In the aftermath of Tuesday's deadly shooting in the Eli settlement, the Israeli government moved to increase its security presence in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu also said he had approved plans to build a further 1,000 new homes in the Eli settlement — in opposition to calls from the international community to halt settlement building.

Earlier on Wednesday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called for an even more aggressive response.

"We need a military operation, we need to flatten buildings, we need targeted killings," he told parliament on Wednesday. "That's how you act against terrorism."

According to the UN, there are around 700,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem among a Palestinian population of around 2.9 million. The Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law.

ab/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)