IDF, cops condemn settler firebombing of troops as ‘serious terror attack’

IDF, cops condemn settler firebombing of troops as ‘serious terror attack’

Politicians denounce attack on police jeep outside Yitzhar, which seems to be response to crackdown on nearby outpost, but fall short of calling perpetrators ‘terrorists’

Molotov cocktails hurled at Border Police outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)
Molotov cocktails hurled at Border Police outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

Senior Israeli officials on Friday denounced the firebombing of a Border Police jeep outside the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar earlier that morning, with IDF generals referring to the incident as a “serious terror attack,” while government ministers refrained from such a designation, condemning it instead as an “act of violence.”

Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the attack — in which three firebombs were thrown at the vehicle — as a “double crime” as the police are involved in the country’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

No officers were injured in the incident, but damage was caused to the jeep, the Border Police said in a statement.

“I fully denounce the severe act of violence against Border Police troops that was carried out tonight. Security forces are protecting all of us. It is always a crime, but it is a double crime, doubled at this time as border guards and police troops are helping us get through the coronavirus crisis,” Netanyahu said.

A brushfire caused by Molotov cocktails hurled at Border Police outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

Interim Defense Minister Naftali Bennett similarly denounced the attack, which appeared to be a response to a recent crackdown by the Border Police against the nearby illegal outpost of Kumi Uri, saying he was giving security forces free rein to bring in those responsible — a commonly heard but seldom implemented directive following attacks on troops by Jewish Israelis.

“Shameful. The act of violence in Yitzhar is more serious than anything. I will not accept any display of violence, under any circumstance and under any condition, especially not when security forces are standing guard and defending the security of Israel,” Bennett said in a statement.

“I have ordered security forces to act in every way in order to find the criminals and bring them to justice,” he said.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria regional council, also denounced the attack, without labeling it terrorism.

“The entire settlement enterprise, including myself, support and back up the IDF and border guards. Residents of Yitzhar completely reject violence and attacks on IDF, Border Police and security forces’ troops,” he said in a statement.

While politicians refrained from referring to the attack as an act of terror, both the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police explicitly described it as such.

Damaged caused to a Border Police vehicle after settlers hurled Molotov cocktails at it outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi furiously denounced the firebombing as a “most severe terror attack, which violates the foundations of the state and undermines it.”

The head of the IDF Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, similarly condemned the Molotov cocktail attack and identified those responsible as being from the Kumi Ori outpost.

“While the State of Israel is dealing with a number of challenges, including the coronavirus, a criminal youth from the Kumi Ori hilltop chose the path of terror and threw Molotov cocktails at Border Police troops who were on a security mission in the [Yitzhar] community,” said Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan.

“This was the most serious incident that could have ended with physical harm,” he said.

“We will act diligently against these criminals. I fully denounce violence of all kinds against civilians, police officers and soldiers,” Padan added.

A security official who spoke to The Times of Israel on the condition of anonymity on Friday morning labeled the attack as “attempted murder in every sense.”

The troops had been leaving Yitzhar after operating in the area to enforce a closed military zone order around the Kumi Ori outpost just southwest of the settlement, according to the security forces.

Border Police arrive at the Kumi Ori outpost to raze a pair of illegal homes on January 15. (Elazar Riger)

The order was put in place last October following a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and security forces perpetrated by a number of young settlers from the area. While a tense relative calm has largely held since then, the situation began spiraling on Wednesday when settlers clashed with Border Police who arrived in Kumi Ori as locals were attempting to build a synagogue there.

Five Israelis were arrested on charges of assaulting officers and violating a closed military zone order, which allows only the seven families who are official residents of the outpost to be there.

Most of the outpost lies in Area B of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civil control and where Israelis are not allowed to live under the Oslo Accords.

Among those arrested was Yitzhar resident and prominent far-right activist Meir Ettinger. Ettinger, who is the grandson of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and has an extensive history of terror activity, was released later that day along with the other assailants.

In addition to attacks on security forces, rights groups have reported that settlers in the northern West Bank have also been targeting area Palestinians in recent days.

Earlier Thursday, the Yesh Din watchdog group published photos of a group of 15 masked and armed settlers descending from the northern West Bank hilltop where the dismantled settlement of Homesh had been located and hurling stones at Palestinians from the nearby village of Burqa. A police report was filed, but a law enforcement spokeswoman said she was unaware of the incident.

Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)

A nearly identical incident took place two days earlier, in which the settlers entered the field of a Palestinian farmer from Burqa, tearing down a fence and damaging his crops, Yesh Din said. Nearby villagers who saw the scene unfold arrived to assist the farmer, where a stone-throwing clash unfolded.

Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene and separated the sides, leading the settlers back toward the abandoned hilltop. The site belongs to a group of Palestinian farmers, who just last month were given permission for the first time since the 2005 evacuation to access their lands. However, a hard-line national-religious yeshiva continues to operate there on a daily basis, with no intervention by the army.

Incidents of Israeli and Palestinian violence were reported in a number of locations throughout the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, with perpetrators evidently refusing to heed government guidelines to stay inside due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have sharpened restrictions in recent days to halt the spread of the virus, forbidding people from venturing outside aside from exceptional cases.

An Israeli vehicle hit by a rock in the West Bank on March 22, 2020 (IDF Spokesperson)

Other incidents of settler violence were reported on Monday and Tuesday targeting villagers from Al-Mughayyir and Umm Safa in the central West Bank and Ein al-Hilwe in the Jordan Valley.

The IDF has also reported an uptick in Palestinian stone throwing targeting Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads.

Twice in the past week, security forces set up ambushes at hotspots in the northern West Bank, firing and injuring Palestinians who were throwing stones, according to the army.

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