Defense minister: They will pay

Settler extremists quarantined in West Bank abscond with IDF-supplied tents

After being accused of attacking three Palestinians, ‘hilltop youth’ allegedly steal equipment from facility specially set up for them by military and flee scene; two arrested

Hilltop youth quarantining together in a tent provided by the IDF on April 7, 2020. (Courtesy)
Hilltop youth quarantining together in a tent provided by the IDF on April 7, 2020. (Courtesy)

A group of Jewish extremists on Thursday morning allegedly stole military tents and other equipment worth tens of thousands of shekels from a quarantine facility that the military had established for them in the northern West Bank, police said.

The group of radical settlers staying at the facility was also suspected of attacking a group of Palestinians with tear gas and rocks and then firebombing their cars on Tuesday.

Police launched a manhunt and officers arrested two people suspected of being in possession of the stolen military equipment, later releasing them to house arrest.

Police said the officers arrested the two suspects as they were driving down the Route 90 highway. They said stolen military equipment was found in their car. It was not immediately clear how many suspects remained at large or if all the stolen military equipment was recovered.

The two suspects were reportedly not part of the group that had been staying at the quarantine facility, but had instead met up with them and taken the stolen tents from them, according to Channel 13.

The vehicle was stopped at the Lido Junction, some 30 kilometers north of the quarantine facility that the military set up near Metzoke Dragot, in the West Bank near the Dead Sea.

A police spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the group were “permitted to leave” the quarantine facility on Thursday, apparently as their required period of isolation had come to an end.

The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the matter, saying it was an issue for the police.

Police on Thursday also received a court-issued gag order on the investigation into the attack on the three Palestinians on Tuesday, barring publication of all information pertaining to the case and the suspects in it.

Police were investigating whether the gasoline used to torch the Palestinian vehicles came from the fuel that the army supplied to the youth to run the generator at their quarantine outpost, a police official told The Times of Israel, despite the gag order, confirming a Kan public broadcaster report.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett denounced the vandalism of the quarantine facility and the attack on the Palestinians, saying they “crossed all red lines.”

“We have ordered security forces to find the suspects as quickly as possible and bring them to justice, so that the message will come across clearly: you pay for violence,” Bennett said.

The defense minister made a similar statement last month, when another group of settler extremists threw firebombs at a Border Police vehicle outside the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank.

Police have not yet reported any arrests in that case.

The military established the quarantine facility for the young men in Metzoke Dragot last week after they were forced into isolation when they came into contact with one of their friends who contracted the coronavirus.

The men, who had been living in the Givat Ronen outpost in the northern West Bank, were initially meant to be taken to a quarantine hotel in Jerusalem, but they rebelled after being told they would be put in separate rooms. When they were then put on a bus to another facility in southern Israel, they shattered the vehicle’s windows and ran away.

After they were recaptured by police, the military agreed to set up a special facility for them near Metzoke Dragot. The roughly 20 teens were transferred to the site near the Dead Sea last Monday night and were permitted to lodge together, in violation of the government’s coronavirus guidelines, which require those who come in contact with confirmed carriers to isolate on their own.

Photos taken at the site showed that the outpost includes a large tent where the so-called hilltop youth sleep together, a Beit Midrash tent for religious study, a tent for the teens to prepare food, showers, outhouses and a generator.

David Elhayani, the head of the powerful Yesha Council, which represents West Bank settlements, denounced the group as “young criminals” Thursday, saying they were not representative of the Israeli settler movement.

Earlier this week, the group of some 20 far-right extremists — also referred to as “hilltop youth” — were accused of attacking a group of Palestinians, spraying them with tear gas, throwing rocks at them, and firebombing their cars.

The Palestinians did not require medical assistance after the attack, according to police. Channel 12 said a woman in one of the vehicles was an Arab Israeli resident of Haifa, who fainted at the scene.

A security official quoted by Channel 12 wryly called the attack “a show of appreciation by the hilltop youth to the State of Israel for treating them amid the coronavirus crisis.”

“This is further proof that this is a violent, extreme, racist group that is sowing terror everywhere it goes,” the unnamed source said, adding that “the security forces will bring those involved to justice.”

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