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Israeli settlers attack Palestinians across West Bank as escalation looms

A Palestinian man checks the wreckage of a car Sunday after a fire overnight in a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah. [Jaafar Ashtiyeh | AFP | Getty Images]

A Palestinian man was killed near a settlement in the West Bank overnight Saturday, and Israeli settlers carried out dozens of attacks targeting Palestinians across the occupied territory, according to Palestinian media and officials, as violence showed no sign of abating on the eve of a trip to the region by America’s top diplomat.

The Israeli army said that the Palestinian man killed late Saturday was seen outside Kdumim, a settlement in the northern West Bank, “armed with a handgun … and was neutralized by the community’s civilian security team.” Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, identified the man as Karam Ali Salman, 18, a resident of Qusin village, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The report said he was fatally shot by an armed Israeli settler in circumstances that remained “unclear.”

Wafa said at least 144 Israeli settler attacks — some minor rock-throwing incidents, others much more violent — were reported on Saturday across the West Bank, the occupied territory that Palestinians envision as part of their future state. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities on Sunday began demolishing Palestinian homes in retaliation for Friday’s synagogue shooting and pledged an expansion of West Bank settlements, which could further inflame an already volatile situation.

In Masafer Yatta, in the south, settlers assaulted a Palestinian man; in two villages near Ramallah, masked attackers torched a house and a car and threw stones; in Nablus, settlers uprooted nearly 200 trees.

Outside the northern village of Akraba, dozens of settlers established a new, unauthorized outpost. They attacked the Palestinian landowners who arrived at the scene, then injured a medic who came to assist, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. The Israeli military did not intervene, the report added.

There has been an “unprecedented increase in the frequency of terror attacks against Palestinian citizens and their property,” said Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official.

Early Sunday, Israeli security forces blocked access to the family home of the Palestinian gunman who killed seven people outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday night, sealing doors and windows. Authorities promised that the house would soon be demolished.

The shooter, who was killed at the scene, has been identified as 21-year-old Khairi Alqam. Alqam was named after his grandfather, who was fatally stabbed in 1998, allegedly by a Jewish attacker who was arrested but never charged with the crime, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

As Israeli security forces stood guard Sunday outside the four-story home, which housed several generations of his family, neighbors gathered. One man, Abu Jamal, a 50-year-old electrician, wondered aloud how the Israelis would move bulldozers into the area to demolish such a large structure.

Abu Jamal said the atmosphere in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem was incendiary. “This new government is a radical government,” he said. “They will keep putting more and more and more pressure on us — until we explode.” He made a popping noise and pointed to his head.

At an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Our response will be strong, fast and accurate. Whoever tries to hurt us, we will harm them and anyone who helps them.”

Though Israeli police believe Alqam acted alone, they have arrested at least 42 people in connection with the shooting, including members of his immediate family. Security forces have fanned out across East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On Saturday, another attack took place at an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City, when a 13-year-old Palestinian from a nearby neighborhood allegedly shot and wounded two Israelis. The boy was apprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to Israeli police.

Netanyahu’s new government is the most right-wing in Israeli history, an alliance of settler activists, religious conservatives and hard-line nationalists who say that past actions to counter Palestinian violence have not been harsh enough.

After the shooting rampage outside the synagogue, Israeli authorities announced new anti-terrorism proposals and a loosening of restrictions on civilian gun ownership — stopping short of ordering retaliatory military strikes.

At a government meeting Sunday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir demanded that in exchange for the seven killed on Friday, the government should, within seven days, authorize seven illegal settlements in the West Bank, according to Israel’s Channel 12 News.

The latest outburst of violence began Thursday during an early-morning Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp, the deadliest operation in two decades, Palestinian officials said. Another Palestinian man, 24-year-old Omar Tareq Saadi, died Sunday from injuries sustained during the raid, bringing the death toll to 10.

Israeli raids in the West Bank have escalated dramatically over the past year, making 2022 the deadliest for Palestinians there since the United Nations began systematically tracking deaths in 2005. At least 30 Palestinians have already been killed this year, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The violence coincides with prearranged visits to the region by U.S. officials, who have for weeks been warning of an escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit Monday and Tuesday will include meetings with Netanyahu in Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, the State Department said.

U.S. administration officials have scrambled to figure out how to avoid dealing directly with far-right Israeli ministers, including Ben Gvir — who has been convicted multiple times for inciting anti-Arab hatred and who rose from the political fringes to national security minister with promises to enforce the death penalty for Palestinian terrorists and enable Israeli soldiers to shoot at rock-throwing Palestinians.

On Sunday, Israeli forces demolished a house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukaber built by Rateb Matar, a 49-year-old construction worker who said he had no ties to the recent violence. He’s been in a legal battle with the Jerusalem municipality since 2017, racking up thousands of dollars in fines and fees for illegal construction.

“According to the city we are all here illegally, all the houses,” he said. Matar said he believed his house was demolished so that Ben Gvir could show his supporters he was doing something.

“It’s all him. He gave the order. He signed the paper. He wanted this on the TV,” Matar claimed.

Late Saturday, a small crowd of Israeli protesters gathered near an intersection leading to a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. One of the young men said they wanted to “let the terrorists know we are here.”

As they began to surround a car, police shouted at the driver, who appeared to be Palestinian, to roll up his window and keep moving. The police then pushed the crowd away as they banged on the vehicle. One man carried a sign, in Hebrew, reading, “Revenge!”

Ayreh Blumberg, 66, a plumber from the nearby settlement of Ma’ale Adumim who participated in the demonstration, said anyone supporting Palestinian attackers, including family members, should be deported.

“I think they should be given a one-way ticket out of Israel,” he said.

Among the victims of the Friday shooting rampage near the synagogue was Asher Natan, 14, who was buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives late Saturday night.

The funeral for Eli and Natalie Mizrahi, a married couple killed in Friday's synagogue shooting. [Kobi Wolf for The Washington Post]

Also killed were a married couple in their 40s, Eli and Natalie Mizrahi, who were buried side by side early Sunday in a hilltop cemetery in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh.

During the funeral, several mourners said their deaths were part of a larger, divine plan for Israel. One griever read from scripture and said that “of course, anyone who was murdered in the name of God, and absolutely if he was murdered by Palestinians, it is in the name of God, then there is purpose in that terrible tragedy.”

“The terrorist came to the synagogue with the knowledge that he would kill Jews only for the reason that they were Jews,” said Israeli Economy Minister Nir Barkat.

He was interrupted by Eli Mizrahi’s sister, who yelled: “Get out of here. You’re talking like that because there’s media here. You’re putting on a show!”


(c) 2023, The Washington Post



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