Fayha Shalash & Sheren Khalel
Middle East Eye / February 26, 2023
Nearly 400 Palestinians are wounded while scores of homes, shops and cars are destroyed.
Ramallah, occupied Palestine – Jewish settlers rampaged through towns in the occupied West Bank on Sunday evening in revenge attacks, burning and attacking Palestinian homes and property for hours.
At least one Palestinian was killed and nearly 400 wounded in the attacks, Palestinian health officials said.
Sameh Hamdullah Aktech, 37, was shot dead in Za’tara town near Nablus.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said its staff treated someone for stabbing wounds and at least two others suffered head injuries.
Homes, shops, cars and agricultural land were set ablaze by settlers who roamed the streets of several Palestinians towns, mainly near Nablus. Attacks were reported in Ramallah and Salfit.
PRCS said at least 35 homes were completely burned down and 40 others were partially damaged. More than 100 cars were burnt or destroyed, it added.
The riots followed a shooting earlier in Huwwara town earlier in the day by a suspected Palestinian which left two Jewish settlers killed.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian activist monitoring the expansion of Jewish settlements in the north of the West Bank, told Middle East Eye at least one shop was burned down as of 9:15pm local time.
“What the settlers are doing tonight are war crimes similar to the events of the Nakba and the attacks of the Zionist gangs,” Daghlas said, referring to the violent “catastrophe” of 1948 that lead to the creation of the State of Israel.
Nine Palestinian families have had to be rescued from their burning homes, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported.
‘Our lives are in danger’
One Huwwara resident, Ziyad Dmaidi, told MEE that he barely got his family to safety before his home was set on fire.
Dmaidi was returning from work when he saw a group of settlers heading towards his house, he said, recalling a feeling of panic as he rushed inside to gather his family.
Within minutes “dozens of settlers” began smashing in windows, breaking into the house. The family escaped just as burning rubber tyres were thrown inside. His home was completely destroyed.
“I never thought about the house or all our stuff, I was only thinking about my children and how to save them from this nightmare,” Dmaidi said.
“We got out of the house and off to safety with the help of the ambulance crews who were also attacked while trying to evacuate us.
“Our lives are in danger and all this is happening while the Israeli soldiers stand around waiting only to protect the settlers,” he continued.
Fida Hamad, another resident, told MEE that the settlers’ attack was the largest she had ever experienced and that houses were set on fire with families still inside.
Large clouds of smoke billowed throughout the town to the constant sounds of screaming, she said.
“We were sitting in our homes, and suddenly we heard explosions and screams of panic. We learnt that the settlers had attacked the town,” Hamad recalled.
“My children started crying and I tried to calm them down, but the sounds of assault were louder than everything: swearing in Hebrew, smashing windows, burning vehicles, homes, and shops … It was very terrible.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh charged the Israeli government with full responsibility for the attacks in Huwwara and urged the international community to provide protection to the civilian population.
Meanwhile, Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, condemned the attacks, tweeting: “The settlers are committing a horrific crime tonight in Huwwara – burning homes while families are inside and wreaking havoc.
“They are acting in the spirit of the fascist government,” Touma-Suleiman said. “I spoke to several ambassadors and asked them to intervene.”
At least one Palestinian fire truck attempting to respond to the fires was attacked and its windows smashed. Several ambulances were also damaged, according to reports on social media. PRCS said they were prevented from reaching areas affected by the attacks in Huwwara for two hours.
Settlers ‘seek revenge’
Earlier on Sunday, Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, two brothers from Har Bracha, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, were fatally shot in their car while driving through Huwwara.
The assailant rammed the vehicle, before shooting at the two and fleeing the scene. Just after the shooting, Israel’s military said it was pursuing the perpetrator.
Jewish settlers issued calls to organize a march to Huwwara on social media to “seek revenge” for the attacks.
“Israeli [Jewish] settlers have been terrorizing the Palestinian communities today, in the occupied West Bank, attacking civilians and torching down houses and businesses,” the official account of the Palestinian mission to the UK tweeted, sharing a video of one of the fires and tagging Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and two Foreign Office Twitter accounts.
The occupied West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians as well as an estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers who live in state-approved Jewish settlements that are illegal under international law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a joint statement following Sunday’s initial shooting, announcing that parliament had passed legislation approving the death penalty for Palestinians convicted of terrorism offences against Israelis.
“On this difficult day when two Israeli citizens were murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack, there is nothing more symbolic than passing a death penalty law for terrorists,” the statement read.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials held talks in Jordan to try to secure calm in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
At least 62 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis this year, at a rate of more than one fatality per day. Meanwhile, 12 Israeli civilians and one police officer have been killed by Palestinians in the same period.
This follows a steep increase in violence in 2022 when at least 167 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the highest death toll in those territories in a single year since the Second Intifada. Palestinian attacks killed 30 Israelis last year.
Fayha Shalash reported from Ramallah and Sheren Khalel from Florida
Israel and Palestinians agree steps to curb violence
Al-Jazeera / February 26, 2023
Israel has agreed to stop the authorization of illegal Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank for six months, a joint statement says.
Jewish settlers have carried out arson attacks on Palestinian houses in Nablus hours after Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to implement measures to de-escalate tensions amid surge in violence in the occupied West Bank.
In a joint statement at the end of the meeting in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba in Jordan on Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials said that they would work closely to prevent “further violence” and that they “reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground”.
Israel was committed to stop “discussing setting up any new settlement units for four months and stop approving any new settlements for six months”, a joint statement said.
After “thorough and frank discussions”, the Palestinian and Israeli sides “reaffirmed the need to commit to de-escalation on the ground and to prevent further violence”, it said.
The joint statement came at the end of a meeting also attended by US, Egyptian and Jordanian officials amid growing concerns over an escalation of violence in the run-up to the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that begins in late March.
Abdullah al-Huwari, 36, an eyewitness, reported that “large numbers of settlers attacked the village of Huwara [in occupied West Bank]”, setting fire to homes and cars.
“I see flames in front of me,” he said. “Wherever I turn my eyes, I see the flames of a burning house.”
The Palestinian Red Cross said 98 people were treated, most after inhaling tear gas, while Israeli emergency services reported three Israelis injured after being hit by stones.
In Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority stressed “joint readiness and commitment to work immediately to stop unilateral measures” for three to six months, according to the statement.
Host nation Jordan, along with Egypt and the US, considered “these understandings as major progress towards re-establishing and deepening relations between the two sides”, the statement said.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in a statement said the US recognized the meeting was a “starting point”.
“There is much work to do over the coming weeks and months to build a stable and prosperous future for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Sullivan said of the Aqaba meeting. “Implementation will be critical.”
The two sides also agreed to meet again next month in Sharm al-Sheikh in Eqypt.
Hamas says meeting was ‘worthless’
The Hamas group, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, condemned the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for taking part. An official from the group said the meeting was “worthless” and would not change anything.
The ruling Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had earlier defended the meeting.
“The decision to take part in the Aqaba meeting despite the pain and massacres being endured by the Palestinian people comes from a desire to bring an end to the bloodshed,” it said on Twitter.
Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has responsibilities over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, quickly said he would not abide by any agreement on freezing settlement construction.
“I have no idea what they spoke about or not in Jordan,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter. “But one thing I do know: there will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day (it is under my authority).”
Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al-Jazeera’s Sara Khairat said that while this meeting saw the Israeli side meet with the Palestinian Authority, it was “much to the discontent of many Palestinians who have said these meetings result to in absolutely nothing.”
“Also with the new right-wing government, there has been a step up in demolitions and raids on occupied territories including the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“They [officials at the meeting] agreed to de-escalate tensions and maintain security at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, but since that statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tweeted saying that settlements won’t be frozen, which seems to be contradicting to the statement that was released from the meeting in Jordan.”
The talks were held on the same day two Israelis were shot and killed in the occupied West Bank in what the Israeli government called a “Palestinian terror attack”.
The fatal shooting came days after Israeli forces launched their deadliest raid in the West Bank in nearly 20 years, which left 11 Palestinians dead in the northern city of Nablus.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power at the head of one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israeli history has added to Arab concerns about escalation.
Israel on February 12 granted retroactive authorization to nine Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and announced the mass construction of new homes within established settlements.
The United Nations Security Council issued a formal statement denouncing Israel’s plan to expand settlements on occupied Palestinian territory – its first action of the kind against Israel in six years.
The occupied West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians plus an estimated 475,000 Israelis who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.
Israeli forces have killed 65 Palestinians, including 13 children, this year so far. They have also injured hundreds of others, making the first two months of 2023 the deadliest for Palestinians compared with the same period since 2000.
Eleven Israeli civilians, including three children, a police officer and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to the AFP news agency.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 June War.
SOURCE: AL-JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES