5 suspects brought to court over settler rampage through Palestinian village

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Five suspects were brought for a hearing Monday at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court after being arrested over a violent attack by settlers on a Palestinian village in the West Bank, the Israel Police said Monday.

Several dozen settlers rampaged through the village of Umm Safa on Saturday, setting vehicles and homes ablaze and opening fire, on the fifth day of vigilante attacks targeting Palestinian civilians after a Palestinian terror shooting on Tuesday in which four Israelis were killed outside the settlement of Eli.

Of the five detainees, three were adults and two were minors, police said.

One of them was an off-duty soldier, who according to the Israel Defense Forces was detained by police after the rioting and handed over to the Shin Bet security agency for further questioning.

Four other suspects were arrested over riots that occurred before Saturday. They were being questioned by the Shin Bet security agency, and their remand was extended on Sunday with Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech pressent in court.

Some of the settler extremists, commonly known as “hilltop youth,” are also in close contact with confidants of far-right Knesset members and cabinet ministers, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the Ynet news site reported Monday.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (right) and Limor Son Har-Melech speak after the government allowed the uprooting of an illegally planted orchard near Shiloh in the West Bank, February 15, 2023. (Screenshot/Channel 12; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Ben Gvir, himself a veteran ally of the hilltop youth, paid a solidarity visit Friday to the illegal outpost of Evyatar, reestablished following last week’s terror attack, and has issued public accusations of an army “siege” on the settlement of Ateret. That allegation, based on far-right WhatsApp groups, was denied by the military and — along with his other actions — earned Ben Gvir a rebuke Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the wake of Tuesday’s deadly terror attack carried out by Hamas-affiliated gunmen at a West Bank gas station, recent days have seen hundreds of settlers riot inside Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, and cars, and opening fire in some cases, including in Umm Safa on Saturday.

According to Army Radio, the settlers had driven to the village to carry out the attack. Observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath — unless it is a life or death situation, based on the Jewish legal principle of pikuah nefesh, which trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

On Saturday evening, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai issued a joint statement strongly condemning the string of settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, branding them as “nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term.”

A field of fire during clashes between Palestinians and settlers near the Palestinian village of Qusra in the West Bank on June 22, 2023. (Flash90)

The IDF has admitted to having “failed” in stopping other settler riots in recent days.

Hours after the Tuesday terror attack near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were gunned down at a gas station and adjacent hummus restaurant, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, including Huwara, the scene of another deadly settler riot earlier this year after another fatal terror attack.

On Wednesday, hundreds of settlers also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif — shortly after the victims of the attack were buried — shooting at residents, setting homes, cars and fields on fire, and terrorizing residents.

One Palestinian — 27-year-old Omar Qattin — was killed in unclear circumstances in Turmus Ayya.

The damage caused to Palestinian homes and cars by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, on June 21, 2023 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high across the West Bank for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including last week’s victims. Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted troops carrying out arrest raids, military posts, Israeli settlements and civilians on roads, especially in the northern West Bank.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 134 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

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