17 Apr 2024

Deadly West Bank settler attacks on Palestinians follow Israeli boy's killing

3:33 pm on 17 April 2024

By Hugo Bachega, BBC Middle East correspondent, Jerusalem

Relatives mourn during the funeral of Omar Hamed, who was killed during clashes with Israeli settlers the day before, in the village of Baytin, near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on April 14, 2024. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Relatives mourn during the funeral of Omar Hamed, who was killed during clashes with Israeli settlers. Photo: AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a group of Israeli settlers storm a Palestinian village and, captured on CCTV, a masked man sets fire to a car parked in a garage, under the watch of at least three Israeli soldiers.

The incident was part of a rampage by Israeli settlers that, according to local officials, killed four Palestinians over four days.

The violence was triggered by the disappearance of 14-year-old Binyamin Ahimeir, who went missing on Friday after leaving his settler outpost to herd sheep near the Palestinian village of Mughayir, in the Ramallah area.

His body was found a day later, and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said he had been killed in a "terrorist attack".

Amid the search for the boy, dozens of settlers, some of them armed, raided Mughayir. They burned homes and cars, and killed a 25-year-old man named Jihad Abu Alia with a shot in the chest, according to Palestinian officials.

Sameh Abu Alia, his cousin, said Jihad, who would get married in June, was trying to prevent the settlers from storming the family's house.

"It wasn't the first time settlers attacked us. But we weren't expecting a huge number of them," he said.

"They shot at the water tanks, the electricity network, and the internet. They were planning to isolate us from the outside world."

Settlers, armed with guns and stones, returned to the village on Saturday. Shaul Golan, a photographer for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, said he was attacked by a group of between 20 to 30 people, some of whom were armed and wearing IDF uniforms, as he hid under a table in one of the burned houses while trying to cover the rampage.

A Palestinian inspects the damage to a home in the village of Mughayir near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on April 13, 2024, after an attack by Israeli settlers on the village. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

A Palestinian inspects the damage to a home in the village of Mughayir after an attack by Israeli settlers. Photo: AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh

"They beat me mercilessly, breaking my finger and taking my bag to burn all of the photography equipment inside," he said in an interview published on the newspaper's website.

"I laid on the floor, as every one of them kicked me in the head and stomach... They had hate in their eyes."

Violence spread to other areas. In the village of Dayr Dibwan, CCTV video shared by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group which monitors West Bank violence, showed masked settlers entering a private garage and setting a vehicle on fire, while Israeli soldiers stand watching.

Responding to the footage, the IDF said the incident was being examined and that the soldiers would "be dealt with accordingly", Reuters reported.

In nearby Beitin on Saturday a 17-year-old boy, Omar Hamed, was killed after being hit by a bullet in the head in an attack by a group of 30 settlers who had been accompanied by Israeli forces, Palestinian officials said.

It was not clear whether he was shot by Israeli forces or settlers.

After the boy's body was found, Israeli authorities warned people against revenge. But across the West Bank, Yesh Din received reports of attacks on 10 villages and towns, with extensive damage to property and livestock.

"The attacks were of an unprecedented scale. I can't remember a day when we saw so many places attacked at once. It was a very violent day with hundreds of settlers," said Ziv Stahl, the group's director.

"In many places there were soldiers who were not only allowing them to do whatever they wanted but also providing them protection. We see that in a lot of cases, but [on Saturday] it was caught on camera".

On Monday, two Palestinians - 30-year-old Abdul Rahman Bani Fadel and 21-year-old Mohammad Bani Jamea - were shot dead during an attack by dozens of settlers, many of them armed, near the town of Aqraba, south-east of Nablus in the northern West Bank, according to local officials. The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident.

"We're concerned that the settlers might come back," Salah Bani Jaber, the mayor of Aqraba, said. "The Israeli army and police are not preventing them from attacking Palestinian villages and towns...

"The settlers are planning to push us out from our land."

Palestinian gunmen attend the funeral of Mohammad Shahmawi after he was killed during a raid by Israeli forces on April 12, 2024, al-Faraa camp in the occupied West Bank, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza. (Photo by Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

Palestinian gunmen attend the funeral of Mohammad Shahmawi after he was killed during a raid by Israeli forces on 12 April. Photo: AFP/Zain Jaafar

Across the West Bank, Israeli raids killed three Palestinians - 17-year-old Yazan Ishtayeh in Nablus on Monday, and Mohammad Shahmawi, 22, and Mohammad Rasoul Daraghmeh, 26, a suspected Hamas member, in Tubas on Friday.

Around 700,000 Israelis live in 160 settlements alongside 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the settlement watchdog Peace Now.

Almost all of the international community regards the settlements as illegal, although Israel disputes this.

There are also about 160 so-called outposts, or small settlements which have been built without official approval and are considered illegal under Israeli law.

Tensions were already high before 7 October, when Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel, sparking the war in Gaza. Since then, more than 460 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Those deaths includes armed fighters amid a rise in raids by the Israeli military on Palestinian towns and villages.

In the same period, at least 13 Israelis have been killed in the West Bank, including two members of Israel's security forces.

Human rights groups say incidents of settler attacks, and alleged involvement of the security forces, are rarely fully investigated, with impunity virtually the norm.

"There's no accountability," Stahl, from Yesh Din, said.

The recent violence has sparked concerns from foreign governments, and the US, Israel's main ally, has imposed sanctions on several Israeli outposts and settlers involved in attacks on Palestinians.

On Tuesday, the UN human rights office called on Israeli security forces to end what it called their active participation in and support for attacks by settlers in the West Bank.

- This story was originally published by BBC News

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