Israeli settlers torch Palestinian homes and cars to avenge deadly shooting
Hundreds of Israeli settlers have stormed into a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, setting fire to dozens of cars and homes to avenge the deaths of four Israelis killed by Palestinian gunmen the previous day, residents said.
Palestinians said one man was killed in the violence.
In further violence, an Israeli drone attacked a Palestinian car in which suspected Palestinian gunmen were travelling in the northern West Bank.
The late-night attack marked an escalation in Israel’s ongoing campaign against militants in the area.
The identities of the people on board were not immediately known. But the army said it had “identified a terrorist cell inside a suspicious vehicle” that had been responsible for a number of recent shooting attacks on Jewish settlements.
The settler attack came as the Israeli military deployed additional forces across the occupied West Bank, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1,000 new settler homes in response to the deadly shooting.
The moves threatened to further raise tensions after day days of deadly fighting in the West Bank.
Residents in Turmus Ayya said some 400 settlers marched down the town’s main road, setting fire to cars, homes and trees.
Mayor Lafi Adeeb said some 30 houses and 60 cars were partly or totally burned.
He said: “The attacks intensified in the past hour even after the army came.”
At least eight Palestinians were hurt during the ensuing clashes, which the army tried to disperse by firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
Palestinian medical officials said one man – identified as 27-year-old Omar Qatin – was killed by army fire and two other people were wounded. Residents said Mr Qatin was a father of two small children and worked as an electrician for the local municipality.
Tuesday’s shooting in the settlement of Eli came a day after seven Palestinians were killed in a day-long battle against Israeli troops in the militant stronghold of Jenin.
The worsening violence has created a test for Israel’s government and prompted calls for a widespread military operation in the West Bank.
As Israel deployed more forces to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had approved plans to build 1,000 new homes in Eli.
“Our answer to terror is to strike it hard and to build our country,” Mr Netanyahu said.
The international community opposes settlements on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians for a future independent state. Mr Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
Israeli media identified the four killed in the shooting as Harel Masood, 21, Ofer Fayerman, 64, and Elisha Anteman, 18, Nahman-Shmuel Mordoff, 17. An Israeli civilian killed one assailant at the scene, while Israeli troops chased and killed the second shooter after he fled.
The army said it was beefing up its troop presence in the West Bank. On Wednesday morning, it said troops arrested three suspects in the Palestinian village of Urif in connection to the attack and mapped out the homes of the two gunmen ahead of their likely demolition.
Israel demolishes the homes of Palestinian attackers as part of a policy it says aims to deter others, but critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment.
Hamas did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, although it identified the two gunmen — Mohannad Faleh, 26, who was killed by a civilian at the scene and Khaled Sabah, 24, who was killed by the army as he fled — as its members.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian property in adjacent villages, causing extensive property damage. At least five Palestinians were wounded in attacks by Israeli settlers, Israel’s army radio reported.
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