A Palestinian official is accusing Jewish settlers in the West Bank of attacking olive groves belonging to Palestinians and uprooting some 1,700 seedlings.
Agriculture Minister Waled Assaf said on Monday that the attacks took place in two villages north of Ramallah. He said the Palestinian government would help the villagers with new seedlings to plant.
Israeli police say they are investigating the incident and can’t say who was behind it yet.
In recent years, a fringe of extremist settlers have carried out acts of vandalism in retaliation for Palestinian attacks and to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies.
Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted in these so-called “price tag” assaults. The attacks have been widely condemned in Israel.
UN figures published in January showed that the annual rate of Israeli extremist attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled over eight years, buttressing claims that Israeli security forces have largely failed to stem the campaign in which thugs cut down trees, deface mosques and churches and beat Palestinian farmers.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly denounced such attacks — Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last month branded them “outright terrorism” — and the military has said that soldiers are under strict orders to stop them. However, Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted down a bill two weeks ago that would have branded price tag attacks as terrorism and increased the penalty for committing such acts.
A dramatic incident near a Palestinian farming village on January 7 highlighted the potential of such clashes to escalate and jeopardize fragile US-led peace efforts.
The events began when troops uprooted olive trees planted on private Palestinian land by settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost.
Later that day, about 20 Israelis moved toward nearby villages, including Qusra. Palestinians said the settlers damaged olive trees, and were caught by villagers after a stone-throwing clash and held by them for more than two hours before being handed to the army. Many of the settlers were beaten.
Footage of the settlers surrounded by an angry crowd led the TV news in Israel that day, with commentators saying serious bloodshed was averted by Palestinians who shielded the settlers. The settlers, meanwhile, insisted that they were hiking and denied any connection to violence or vandalism against Palestinians.