The Israel Defense Forces will cooperate with the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police to track down the young Israeli men involved in Saturday night’s attack on IDF soldiers outside the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank, the army said Sunday.
Also Sunday, a Border Police battalion was ordered to take up position near the Yitzhar settlement as a deterrent against further violent activities by residents of the outposts in the area, Israel’s Kan broadcaster reported. This could not be immediately confirmed by police.
The border guards made a similar deployment in April 2014, after a string of attacks and acts of vandalism from the Yitzhar settlement and surrounding outposts, including one case in which residents attacked an IDF encampment.
On Sunday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi released a statement denouncing the previous night’s attack on IDF troops outside Yitzhar, saying it was “unconscionable” for Israeli settlers to attack the soldiers who are charged with defending them.
“Kohavi rejects and condemns the attack against IDF soldiers and views the criminal behavior that was seen in the past week in the Samaria region with the utmost severity. The chief of staff has ordered that all those involved be located and brought to justice. The chief of staff determines that it is unconscionable that IDF soldiers, who work day and night to protect settlers, should be attacked by those whom they defend,” the army said in a statement.
On Saturday night, some 30 residents of the Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar clashed with IDF troops, hurling stones at the soldiers and puncturing the tires of military vehicles.
A soldier was lightly injured by a rock and received medical treatment at the scene, the military said.
The troops responded using less-lethal riot dispersal weapons and fired their guns into the air.
As of Sunday morning, no arrests had been reported.
This was the latest in a series of violent incidents in the area in recent weeks, including alleged threats made against an IDF officer and a reported attack on an 80-year-old Reform rabbi helping nearby Palestinian civilians harvest their olive crops.
The military said Kohavi had spoken with his counterpart in the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, and Acting Commissioner Moti Alon of the police about the attacks.
“It was decided to coordinate the effort and cooperate in order to root out this grave phenomenon. The IDF will work with the Shin Bet and police in order to quickly bring the rioters to justice,” the army said in a statement.
The head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, also condemned the attack on his troops.
In an apparent effort to differentiate between the rioters and the residents of Yitzhar and the surrounding area, Padan noted that the attack was carried out by a “small handful of young delinquents, against whom we must act seriously.”
The Central Command chief, who is chiefly responsible for the security in the West Bank, said these types of attacks “distract the IDF from its primary mission — the defense of citizens and residents of the state, and the preservation of law and order and security.”
The Saturday night attack on the IDF soldiers garnered wall-to-wall criticism, from left-wing organizations and right-wing settler groups alike.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, said, “I strongly condemn any assault on IDF soldiers. There will be no tolerance for lawbreakers who raise a hand to our soldiers.”
The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, condemned the incident and claimed the violence was largely perpetrated by teenagers who are not residents of Yitzhar.
In a statement, the council said Dagan had traveled to Yitzhar immediately upon hearing about the violence, met the soldiers who were attacked, “embraced them and clarified the residents’ feelings of anger over the act.”
“All residents of Samaria and of Yitzhar decry the harm to our dear soldiers,” Dagan said. “The handful of people who did that are teenagers, the vast majority of whom came from outside the community. We will act with all the means we have to kick them out of here.”
Yigal Dilmoni, head of the Yesha Council settler umbrella organization, made a similar comment in a statement to the Times of Israel: “This is a very grave incident. We despise all violence toward the IDF and the security forces; we thank and respect IDF soldiers and commanders who protect us and enable our continued presence in the Land of Israel. We will act to kick out these criminals, most of whom do not live in the area, from the community.”
Residents were organizing a demonstration at 1 p.m. in front of nearby military bases in support of the IDF and in protest of the violence against the troops.
“The soldiers who were attacked and caught by surprise shot in the air, and it’s a miracle this story didn’t end with deaths (from either side).Therefore, many in the community believe a red line has been crossed and we can’t remain silent and go on with our daily lives,” they wrote in a pamphlet advertising the demonstration.
The violence came after a pair of arrests that angered hardline residents of Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts: The first on Wednesday when security forces nabbed a teenager suspected of starting a fire in a Palestinian-owned field located near his home. The minor’s attorney claimed the arresting officer from the Golani brigade had used unnecessary force in apprehending his client, who was released two days later to house arrest.
That evening, a second teen was arrested in the Yitzhar area after the army said he had threatened Golani infantry brigade commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ayoub Kayouf.
“On Friday, several residents gathered and blocked a military vehicle at the entrance to the settlement on Yitzhar,” the army said in a statement regarding the second arrest. “One of the settlers opened the door of the vehicle and threatened its passengers. At that point, the commander of the unit, who was in the vehicle, emerged and the settlers left the area.”
The military said that incident was handled with the cooperation of the Israel Police and local settler leadership, leading to the arrest of the youth.
“The IDF unequivocally condemns physical and verbal abuse toward its servicemen and takes a very harsh view of this incident,” the army said.