Off-duty soldier among 4 detained in latest settler attack on Palestinian village

Serviceman is suspected of involvement in Saturday rampage through Umm Safa in West Bank, where settlers set vehicles and homes ablaze and opened fire on civilians

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Photos show an attack by settlers on the Palestinian village of Umm Safa in the West Bank on June 24, 2023. (Yesh Din)
Photos show an attack by settlers on the Palestinian village of Umm Safa in the West Bank on June 24, 2023. (Yesh Din)

An off-duty Israeli soldier was one of four suspects detained over a violent attack by settlers on a Palestinian village in the West Bank on Saturday.

Several dozen settlers rampaged through the village of Umm Safa, setting fire to vehicles and homes, and opening fire, on the fifth consecutive day of vigilante attacks targeting Palestinian civilians since a Palestinian terror shooting on Tuesday in which four Israelis were killed outside the settlement of Eli.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the soldier was detained by police after the rioting and was handed over to the Shin Bet security agency for further questioning. He was not on duty at the time of the incident.

Earlier in the day, another three suspects were detained, Hebrew-language media reported. The IDF said that one suspect was detained by troops amid the rioting in Umm Safa, and was handed over to police.

In the wake of Tuesday’s deadly terror attack carried out by Hamas-affiliated gunmen at a West Bank gas station, recent days have seen hundreds of settlers riot inside Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, and cars, and even opening fire in some cases, including in Umm Safa on Saturday.

According to Army Radio, the settlers had driven to the village to carry out the attack. Observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath, unless it is a life or death situation, based on the Jewish legal principle of pikuah nefesh — as it’s known in Hebrew — which trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

Later on Saturday, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai issued a joint statement strongly condemning the recent string of settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, branding them as “nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term.”

“The security forces are working against these rioters, risking the lives of IDF soldiers, Israel Police officers and Shin Bet officers. This violence increases Palestinian terror, harms the State of Israel and the international legitimacy of the security forces to fight Palestinian terror, and diverts the security forces from their main mission against Palestinian terror,” the three senior officials said.

“The IDF, the Shin Bet and Israel Police are committed to continuing to act with determination and with all the means at our disposal to maintain security and the law in Judea and Samaria. The IDF will divert and increase forces to prevent such incidents in Judea and Samaria, and the Shin Bet will expand arrests, including administrative detentions against the rioters who act in a violent and extreme manner inside the Palestinian villages,” the statement said.

A field of fire during clashes between Palestinians and settlers near the Palestinian village of Qusra in the West Bank on June 22, 2023. (Flash90)

The IDF has admitted to having “failed” in stopping other settler riots in recent days.

Hours after the Tuesday terror attack near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were gunned down at a gas station, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, including Huwara, the scene of another deadly settler riot earlier this year after a terror attack.

The next day, hundreds of settlers also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif — shortly after the victims of the attack were buried — shooting at residents, setting homes, cars and fields on fire, and terrorizing residents.

One Palestinian — 27-year-old Omar Qattin — was killed in unclear circumstances in Turmus Ayya.

The damage caused to Palestinian homes and cars by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, on June 21, 2023 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israeli police said on Friday they had arrested four people in connection with the violence, without giving further details. They were being questioned by the Shin Bet security agency.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high across the West Bank for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including Tuesday’s victims. Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted troops carrying out arrest raids, military posts, Israeli settlements and civilians on roads, especially in the northern West Bank.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 134 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

Most Popular
read more: