Israeli soldiers guard as Palestinians protest at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 10, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

3 dead after bloody day in West Bank, as settlers riot following Palestinian shooting attack



3 dead after bloody day in West Bank, as settlers riot following Palestinian shooting attack

Israeli soldiers guard as Palestinians protest at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 10, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

This is a developing story.

(JTA) — A gunman shot and killed two Israeli brothers driving through a West Bank town, which was later rampaged by settlers who burned cars and buildings.

A Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured. Israeli leaders called on the rioters to stop — though at least one settler official tweeted that the Palestinian town should be “wiped out.” The attacks took place as Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Jordan to stem a recent escalation in violence, though what they agreed to later came under debate.

The Israeli victims, who lived in the nearby settlement of Har Bracha, were driving Sunday through Huwara, a town near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, reports said. The two victims, brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, ages 22 and 20, were on Route 60, a West Bank thoroughfare that runs through the town. They were both students at academies in which students combine military service with Torah study.

Hours after the Palestinian attack, hundreds of settlers began rioting in the town, burning dozens of cars, shops and homes, and throwing rocks at Palestinian drivers, according to Israeli reports. Videos posted to social media showed widespread fires in Huwara and smoke billowing into the air. Dozens of Huwara’s residents were injured and one Palestinian was killed in another town, Za’tara, south of Huwara.

Late at night, hours after the riot began, Israeli forces quelled the violence and took control of the area, in addition to helping Palestinians evacuate burning buildings. Israeli forces are also increasing their presence in the West Bank.

Sunday’s violence came amid months of escalating violence in Israel and the West Bank. Fifteen Israelis have been killed this year in Palestinian terror attacks, the vast majority of them civilians. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed during the same period, mostly in raids by Israeli forces on cells of militants. A number of Palestinian civilians and children have been killed in the violence. Sunday’s clashes mark the most widespread settler violence in response to a Palestinian attack during the recent bloodshed.

Haaretz quoted local sources as saying that Sunday’s Palestinian shooter was wearing a shirt with the emblem of the Lion’s Den, a group of militants established last year in Nablus as Israel intensified deadly raids in the West Bank following a series of Palestinian stabbing attacks.

In a public video, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the shooting attack a “terrible tragedy” and appealed to the rioters to retreat.

“I ask – even when blood is boiling and emotions run high – not to take the law into one’s hands,” Netanyahu said. “I ask that the IDF and the security forces be allowed to carry out their work. I remind you that in recent weeks, they have targeted dozens of terrorists and thwarted dozens of attacks Let the IDF complete its pursuit and do not take the law into your hands; together we will defeat terrorism.”

But one regional settlement official, Davidi Ben Zion, tweeted and then deleted a call for vengeance, according to screenshots. “The village of Huwara needs to be wiped out today,” he wrote. “Enough with the talk of building and strengthening settlements. The deterrence that was lost needs to return immediately, and there’s no place for mercy.”

Hours later, he tweeted, “To remove any doubt, I will clarify that we are against anarchy and taking the law into one’s hands. We rely on the IDF to do what is needed to return security to our area.”

Other senior government officials, including Netanyahu’s far-right partners, echoed the prime minister’s calls against vigilantism. Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who was just given authority over civilian life in parts of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel, tweeted to his “settler brothers” that “It is forbidden to take the law into one’s hands and create dangerous anarchy that will likely go out of control and cost human life.”

On Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Jordanian capital of Amman to tamp down the intensification of violence. They agreed to resume coordination on security matters between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which governs West Bank Palestinian population centers. But that meeting was followed by disagreement among the parties as to whether Israel would freeze settlement expansion, a claim Netanyahu denied.

Also in attendance were officials from Jordan, Egypt and the United States. A joint statement from the parties said both sides agreed to suspend “unilateral measures for a period of three to six months.” The statement added, “This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”

Israel recently authorized nine outposts in retaliation for Palestinian terrorist attacks. Following the statement, Netanyahu said on Twitter that settlement building would go ahead unhindered. “There is not now nor will there be a freeze,” he wrote. Smotrich also denied that settlement building would slow down. “I do know one thing: There will be no freeze on building and development in the settlements even one day (I’m in charge.).” he tweeted.

Despite the apparent contradictions, the Biden administration praised the conference. “Today’s meeting in Aqaba is a positive step for Israelis and Palestinians,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter. “It’s crucial for the parties to follow through on steps to de-escalate tensions and restore calm.”

Separately, the Times of Israel reported that the Cabinet advanced a bill that would impose the death penalty for Palestinians who kill Israelis, a campaign pledge from Smotrich’s far-right bloc.

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