Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Six killed in Israeli raid on Jenin as settlers attack Palestinian town again

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HUWARA, West Bank Israeli forces swept into a refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Jenin on Tuesday searching for a man suspected of killing two Israeli settlers, in the latest in a series of increasingly deadly incursions targeting armed groups in the occupied West Bank.

At least six Palestinians were killed and 26 injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israel Defense Forces said Abd al-Fattah Hussein Ibrahim Gharusha, a Hamas militant accused of fatally shooting two Israeli brothers on Feb. 26, was among the dead.

The killings last month set off a violent rampage by Israeli settlers through the Palestinian town of Huwara — where the shooting took place — and nearby villages. Hundreds of businesses and homes were torched, some with children inside, and one Palestinian was shot dead.

Despite international and domestic condemnation, Israeli settlers attacked Huwara for a second time in just over a week on Monday, an outburst of violence that came during festivities for the Jewish holiday of Purim and after calls by far-right politicians for the town to be destroyed.

The raid in Jenin followed a few hours later. It came amid a new wave of bloodshed in the West Bank, where more than 60 Palestinians have been killed this year by Israeli security forces and settlers. At least 14 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.

Daytime Israeli raids into the heart of Palestinian cities such as Jenin, once a rare occurrence, have become more frequent and more violent under Israel’s new far-right government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Tuesday’s operation “in the heart of the murderers’ lair.”

“As I have said repeatedly: Whoever harms us will pay the price.”

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said its forces clashed with “enemy soldiers” as they entered Jenin. Meanwhile, local Telegram groups also identified Gharusha as the Huwara attacker, sharing pictures of him wearing a headband with the insignia of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The Israeli military said it carried out a separate operation in the Palestinian city of Nablus to arrest two of Gharusha’s sons.

In Huwara, Palestinians said they expected the attacks by settlers would continue, even if the suspected killer was dead.

On Monday night, a family of five had just finished shopping at a grocery store in the city about 9.30 p.m. and had gotten into their car outside when hooded settlers attacked with rocks and an ax, according to the account of the family members and security footage from the store. Store workers rushed to close the shutters.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara attacked a Palestinian family outside a supermarket on March 6, one week after a violent rampage. (Video: Reuters)

“It felt like it was revenge,” said Omar Khalifa, 27, who was in the vehicle at the time with his parents, wife and 2-year-old daughter. Khalifa’s arm was lightly injured with the ax, he said, while his 67-year-old father remained in a hospital Tuesday after being hit in the head with a rock and receiving stitches.

The others suffered the effects of pepper spray that was showered through the windows. After they managed to drive off, they were pursued and shot at, family members said.

In a statement, the IDF confirmed Monday’s attacks, describing them as “a number of violent riots in the town of Huwara, during which several violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli civilians took place.” It added that the crowds were dispersed.

Emboldened by Israel’s far right, Jewish settlers fan the flames of chaos

The violence after sundown, at the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Purim, followed a vicious assault on the area by settlers on Feb. 26, which some Israeli commentators likened to a “pogrom.”

After the rampage, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said, “The village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.”

Davidi Ben-Zion, deputy director of the Samaria Regional Council, which oversees Israel’s West Bank settlements — who initially had also called for the town to be “erased” — said Palestinians had thrown rocks at a Jewish-occupied car in the village Monday evening.

“Only by a miracle can we now continue the joy of the holiday,” he tweeted. “It must not be allowed to continue, simply must not, we already know what comes after the stone.”

The Israeli military said it could not immediately comment on whether any rocks were thrown at Jewish-occupied cars ahead of the supermarket attack.

The burning of homes and businesses last week focused scrutiny on the role of Israel’s security forces, with a military official ultimately conceding that forces had been too slow to intervene during the initial violence. On Tuesday, human rights groups asked how settlers had once again managed to attack the village.

“The soldiers who were present did not act to prevent the violence,” Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization that tracks settler violence, said in a statement. “The pogroms in Huwara also continue as part of the settlers’ Purim celebrations.”

Several videos purporting to be taken in the vicinity of Huwara on Monday evening showed Israeli security forces dancing alongside settlers to Purim music. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem said in a statement that it was working to verify the footage and was investigating the exact location. “The perpetrators of such pogroms are not held accountable for their crimes, backed by the State of Israel,” it said.

In its statement, the IDF acknowledged the footage and said it was under review: “The actions of the soldiers are not aligned with the behavior expected from IDF soldiers during operational activity.”

A new generation of Palestinian fighters is rising up in the West Bank

Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price described Smotrich’s remarks about Huwara as “irresponsible” and “repugnant.” Smotrich and Ben-Zion have backed off those comments.

Netanyahu later thanked Smotrich for “making it clear” that his choice of words was “inappropriate.”

In recent days, settlers had posted warnings online that they would attack the village again. Security officials quoted in the Israeli media said an attack could come on the Sabbath ahead of Purim.

For many, the holiday is marked by drinking, revelry and fancy dress, celebrating the moment from the Book of Esther when the Jewish people are saved from annihilation at the hands of a Persian official. But extremists have seized on what they see as the holiday’s underlying message of revenge and vanquishing enemies.

It was during Purim in 1994 that Baruch Goldstein opened fire on hundreds of Palestinian worshipers in a mosque in Hebron, killing 29 people.


An earlier version of this story implied that Purim is widely understood to have an underlying message of revenge. The story has been amended to clarify that this meaning is embraced by extremists.

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