Revenge Attacks After Killing of 2 Israeli Brothers Leave West Bank on Edge

Revenge Attacks After Killing of 2 Israeli Brothers Leave West Bank on Edge

When a Palestinian gunman shot dead two Israeli settlers on Sunday afternoon in the northern West Bank, the residents of nearby Palestinian towns knew from long experience to await sporadic acts of revenge.

But few anticipated the systematic ferocity with which mobs from nearby Israeli settlements responded on Sunday night. Settlers burned and vandalized at least 200 buildings in four Palestinian villages near the site of the killings, according to statistics compiled by Israeli rights groups and Palestinian officials, in one of the most intense episodes of settler-led violence in memory. A Palestinian official said that one Palestinian had been killed in the settler attack.

Often acting within sight of Israeli soldiers, hundreds of settlers, some of them armed with knives and guns, set ablaze hundreds of cars and homes in a five-hour rampage to avenge the killing of the two settlers, brothers who had been shot dead as they drove through the Palestinian town of Huwara hours earlier.

“We usually say ‘God help the neighbors,’ because we aren’t usually affected,” said Ammar Damedi, 37, a gold trader in Huwara whose family lives beyond the areas often targeted in settler reprisals.

On Monday, Israelis and Palestinians were bracing for the possibility of more violence, and the Israeli military said that it was reinforcing in the West Bank and would send in two additional battalions to the occupied territory.

A bloody start to the year has been marked by increasingly lethal Israeli Army raids in Palestinian parts of the West Bank and by deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis. After the violence on Sunday, Israel’s security forces said that they were on the alert for any reprisals. They noted that they were particularly watchful for any attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, an Islamist militant group, and in the contested and volatile city of Jerusalem.

“We expect difficult days ahead of us,” Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Monday during a visit to the site of the killing of the two brothers.

The outburst of violence on Sunday coincided with a rare, one-day summit of Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian officials convened by the United States in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba to discuss how to de-escalate spiraling tensions between Israelis and Palestinians ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in late March.

The summit ended with few concrete results other than an agreement to meet again next month. Hours after it concluded, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, condemned both the killing of the Israeli brothers and the ensuing settler violence that resulted in the death of the Palestinian. “These developments underscore the imperative to immediately de-escalate tensions in words and deeds,” Mr. Price wrote on Twitter, adding that the United States would continue trying to restore calm.

The focus of the settler violence was in Huwara, south of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Earlier Sunday, the two Israeli brothers, residents of Har Bracha, a Jewish settlement on a mount overlooking Nablus, were killed as they drove along the main road through the town. The brothers were to be buried in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon.

Palestinians were assessing the destruction in Huwara and surrounding Palestinian villages. Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, told the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, that settlers had attacked houses in Huwara, stoning some and burning others.

The Palestinian who was killed was fatally shot in a village near Nablus, as a result of what the Palestinian health ministry called Israeli “aggression.” The exact circumstances were initially unclear, but Mr. Daghlas told Palestine Radio on Monday that the Palestinian had been killed by “settler gangs” who had come to burn the village. “He died defending his land, his home and his family,” Mr. Daghlas said.

More than 100 Palestinians were reported injured in the settler rampage, most from inhalation of smoke or tear gas. Palestinian officials said that one person had been stabbed and another hit with an iron bar.

Hundreds of settlers took part in the rampage, according to the Israeli military, ignoring public pleas by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders not to take the law into their own hands.

A spokesman for the Israeli police, Dean Elsdunne, said on Monday morning that eight people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the rioting. Six of them were released and two others were waiting to see a judge, he added. The Israeli military said that more arrests were likely.

Israel’s two-month-old government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in the country’s history, had vowed a more aggressive stance toward Palestinian attackers and more support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Most countries consider the settlements to be a violation of international law.

But on Sunday night, as fires raged in Huwara, many Israelis expressed the sense that the security forces had been unprepared and that things were spinning out of control. Israel is already in turmoil, deeply divided over the new government’s plans for a drastic judicial overhaul that critics say will undermine the country’s democratic foundations.

The first two months of 2023 have been among the deadliest in years for both Palestinians and Israelis. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank in the past two months, most of them during Israeli military arrest raids and in shootouts with the Israeli forces. The attack on the brothers on Sunday brought the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians this year to 13.

Orit Strock, a far-right minister in the government from the Religious Zionism party, told Kan, Israel’s public radio, that she was opposed to Israeli participation in the Aqaba summit because she opposes talks with the Palestinians. But asked about the settler attacks in Huwara, she said, “This is not the way,” and that such action was “not an answer” to Palestinian attacks.

But Tzvika Foghel, a lawmaker from the ultranationalist Jewish Power party and chairman of a parliamentary national security committee, praised the rioters in Huwara, telling Israel’s Army Radio on Monday morning that their actions had achieved deterrence. “I am very pleased with the result,” he said. “I want to see, wherever terrorists come to murder me, I want to see that place in flames. Metaphorically.”

Opposition leaders called for the police to investigate Mr. Foghel for incitement to violence.

Settlers also returned on Sunday night to an unauthorized Jewish settlement outpost, Evyatar, another West Bank friction point that was evacuated by the previous government. Israeli forces were trying to evacuate it again on Monday.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Huwara, and Gabby Sobelmanfrom Rehovot, Israel.

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