Settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost denied on Saturday that they were responsible for the wounding of a Palestinian man during clashes near the West Bank village of Qusra, near Nablus.
Earlier, an Israeli military official confirmed that 24-year-old Helmi Abdul-Aziz was shot in the stomach, stating that the bullets that hit him appeared to have been fired by Jewish settlers because the Israeli forces were not using live ammunition. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with military policy.
Palestinian demonstrators said Jewish settlers also shot 14-year-old Mustafa Hilal in the foot. Both were taken to the hospital in Nablus for treatment.
“I didn’t see anybody open fire. No one is allowed to carry a weapon out there,” said Aharon Katsoff, the outpost’s spokesman. Katsoff said the settlers respected the military’s orders that prohibit carrying arms outside of the outpost and did not fire live ammunition at the Palestinians.
The shooting took place 250 meters (yards) away from the outpost fence, in agricultural lands cultivated by the settlers.
Katsoff said that the Palestinians he saw approaching the outpost were the same people he had seen in a previous demonstration last month. He said the same people had also posted a threatening video on the outpost’s Facebook page.
“The attack by hundreds of rioting Palestinians on the vineyards of Esh Kodesh was pre-planned and known to the security forces,” said Jewish Home MK and Hebron resident Orit Strock. She called on the defense minister to bring the Palestinian perpetrators to justice and protect the settlers and their property.
“Incidents like this can lead to a rapid deterioration of the security situation in the already volatile West Bank,” said Labor MK Nachman Shai. “The government’s recent apathy to incidents such as these only fan the flames of the fire that is bound to break out.”
Palestinian witnesses said the clashes between Esh Kodesh settlers and Qusra villagers began when a group of settlers encroached on their village lands and fired guns. They said the settlers chased a Palestinian farmer and his family off land, prompting the farmer to call on residents to confront the settlers. Men on both sides then hurled rocks at each other. The settlers said the clashes began when Palestinians entered their outpost and began destroying their vineyards.
The Israeli military official said about 200 Palestinians and 25 Jewish settlers took part in the clashes, and Israeli forces dispersed Palestinian protesters using “riot dispersal means.”
Two Palestinian residents watching the clashes, Basem Nazal and Abdul-Azim Wadi, said Israeli forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets on demonstrators, and that a rubber bullet hit a 15-year-old Palestinian demonstrator in the eye. They also said the Israeli forces did not use live fire.
Nazal, a resident of Qusra, said groups of settlers were also uprooting their olive trees and vandalizing Palestinian homes.
Security forces were placed on high alert for the third straight day on Sunday, anticipating additional outbreaks of violence after Friday and Saturday saw Palestinian protests turn into clashes with military and police forces across the West Bank.
A security official said there were no specific threats, but that the security establishment would be prepared to prevent protests from turning violent.
The clashes reflected mounting friction in the area, where Palestinians have faced off against Israeli troops in recent weeks in a series of large demonstrations protesting Israel’s control of the territory in general, and in solidarity with four hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails. The death of Palestinian security prisoner of a heart attack on Saturday, in an unrelated incident, was a further source of tension.