Violent Clashes Spread throughout West Bank Following Thursday Night Killing of Settler Couple

Two Israeli men were killed Saturday night, October 3, while a 22-year-old woman, along with her two-year-old baby, were wounded by a Palestinian attacker in the Old City of Jerusalem near Lions’ Gate. The baby and its parents were on their way to pray at the Western Wall. The assailant was shot dead by an Israeli policeman who arrived at the scene while the attack was still in progress. One of the killed in the attack, the baby’s father, 21-year old Aharon Bennet, a soldier in the regular Israeli army and resident of the settlement of Beitar Illit,  was evacuated to hospital in critical condition and later declared dead. The baby was lightly wounded and the mother was in moderate-serious condition. The second killed was Nahmia Lavi (41) a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem who served as a rabbi in the Israeli army reserves. Lavi’s friends said that he went down to the scene of the attack with his handgun to stop the attacker but was stabbed instead and the Palestinian took his weapon.

Saturday night’s attack comes in an escalating wave of violence spreading throughout the West Bank reported over the weekend, following the killing of an Israeli settler couple on Thursday night, October 1 in what was apparently a drive-by shooting attack by Palestinians. Eitam and Naama Henkin, both in their 30s, were killed while driving on Thursday night between the illegal settlements of Itamar and Elon More. Their four children, aged between four months and nine years, were found unharmed in the back of the car.

Palestinians from the al-Jalazone Refugee Camp clash with Israeli forces at the entrance the Jewish-only settlement of Beit El near Ramallah on Oct. 24, 2014.

Palestinians from the al-Jalazone Refugee Camp clash with Israeli forces at the entrance the Jewish-only settlement of Beit El near Ramallah on Oct. 24, 2014 (Photo: AFP/Abbas Momani, File)

The Ma’an News Agency reported rioting by hundreds of Israeli settlers across the occupied West Bank late Thursday, with multiple attacks reported on Palestinian homes and vehicles. In the Palestinian village of Beitillu, near Ramallah, assailants torched a car and spray-painted “Revenge Henkin” on a nearby wall, the Israeli army said on Friday, noting that nobody was hurt.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to US Secretary of State John Kerry Friday that he would “take action” against those responsible for the death of two Israeli settlers. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu said: “This murder will not pass without a response.”

Shortly after Thursday night’s shooting, over 200 settlers attempted to raid the town of Huwwara south of Nablus under the protection of Israeli soldiers while Palestinians used speakers from a mosque to mobilize villagers to resist the incursion.

Hundreds of Israeli troops were deployed in the occupied West Bank on Friday in a hunt for suspected Palestinian gunmen. A large number of Israeli forces raided Beit Furik village and searched the surrounding countryside, while settlers raided Burin and smashed Palestinian vehicles near the Huwwara checkpoint and on a nearby main road. Over 15 Palestinian vehicles were damaged by settlers, including an ambulance, the director of the emergency department in Nablus said. The Nablus district experiences a large proportion of settler violence in the occupied West Bank due to the close proximity of illegal settlements and Palestinian villages.

Settlers from Beit El attacked Palestinian vehicles near Ramallah as Israeli forces looked on, witnesses said, after a settler march set off from the illegal settlement to a main road in the area. There were also reports of settler attacks in the village of Sinjil north of Ramallah as settlers closed a main north-south highway, and attacks in Hebron and Bethlehem.

Palestinian security sources said the Huwwara and Beit Furik checkpoints were closed by the Israeli army, while settlers closed down several main roads east of Nablus.In Tulkarem, around 60 Palestinian families were prevented from leaving a park near the Shavei Shomron settlement as settlers blockaded a main road leading to the area, a Palestinian liaison official said.

Friday, clashes also erupted between Israeli settlers and Palestinian youth from the al-Jalazone Refugee Camp near the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah. Dozens of Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement closed the main street between Nablus and Ramallah in protest the previous evening’s killing of the two Israeli settlers. Palestinian youth arrived to the area in attempt to prevent Israeli settlers from throwing rocks at Palestinian cars, witnesses said, adding that the youth threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. Israeli forces reportedly forced settlers away from the street after they come under attack from Palestinians from the refugee camp, before opening live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas on the group. An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed the clashes.

Further south, an eight-year-old Palestinian boy sustained burns when Israeli forces reportedly threw a stun grenade in his direction on Friday evening in Issawiya village in occupied East Jerusalem, the child’s parents told Ma’an. The mother of the boy, who she identified as Rani Naim al-Tamimi, said he sustained second-degree burns on his neck, shoulder and face after the stun grenade exploded when he opened a car door at the entrance to the village. She said that Israeli forces had completely sealed the village through Friday, preventing locals from leaving or entering. Liaison official Muhammad Yassin said officers intervened and provided safe passage for the families to leave the area.

While not taking responsibility for Thursday night’s attack on the settler couple, Hamas hailed those behind it saying in a statement “This operation was in response to the crimes of the Zionists.”

The already contentious relationship between Palestinians and Israeli settlers has been particularly strained in in recent months, as Israeli settlers set fire to a house on July 30 in Duma, a small village within the district of Nablus, burning a toddler alive, and killing the mother and father of the family. The only remaining survivor of the attack is the family’s 4-year-old son, Ahmad Dawabsha.

The wave of violence and bloodshed in the West Bank also comes in the wake of several weeks of escalating tension over Israeli visits to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, the site of the Temple Mount, for the Jewish new year and associated holidays. Furthermore, speeches at the UN General Assembly last week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only served to reflect the growing strain in relations which is now manifesting itself on the ground.