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Palestinian boy, 12, said hit in head by IDF fire at protest against illegal outpost

Hundreds take part in riot outside Evyatar, hurling stones and burning tires; 22 other Palestinians reportedly hurt, mostly from tear gas inhalation, as army remains on high alert

Rayan Yousef Hamayel, 12, who was allegedly seriously injured by IDF fire during a protest against the Evyatar outpost on February 18, 2022. (Courtesy)
Rayan Yousef Hamayel, 12, who was allegedly seriously injured by IDF fire during a protest against the Evyatar outpost on February 18, 2022. (Courtesy)

A 12-year-old Palestinian was seriously injured after being shot in the head by Israeli soldiers during a violent protest against an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank on Friday afternoon, a Fatah activist at the demonstration told The Times of Israel.

Rayan Yousef Hamayel, 12, was about 100 meters from the soldiers when he was shot, said Hisham Dweikat, a local Fatah activist who attended the protest between the Palestinian village of Beita and the illegal Israeli outpost of Evyatar.

The Israeli army said in a statement that hundreds of Palestinians partook in the violent protest, hurling stones at soldiers and burning tires. Troops responded using riot dispersal measures, the military said, not commenting on the injured 12-year-old. No soldiers were injured during the protest.

Rayan was struck in the back of his head by a rubber-coated steel bullet, fracturing his skull, according to his father Yousef.

“There was so much blood,” Yousef told The Times of Israel.

The child was undergoing surgery on Friday night at Nablus’s Rafidiya Hospital.

According to Yousef, the weekly demonstration had not made it outside the boundaries of the village when Rayan was shot.

“This was random shooting against someone who didn’t pose a threat. He is a child,” said Yousef.

Yousef dismissed the idea that Rayan would have been better served had he stayed home, rather than joining the clashes.

“In villages where there aren’t clashes, the settlers still enter and attack us. No one’s safe, wherever they are,” he said.

Twenty-two other Palestinians were injured during Israel’s dispersal of the rioters. The majority of the injured suffered from tear gas inhalation and did not require hospitalization, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Dozens of Palestinian protesters were filmed throwing stones at an IDF bulldozer, which was setting up a barrier preventing villagers from Beita from approaching Evyatar.

Villagers from Beita and the surrounding areas have been staging near-weekly protests outside of Evyatar since the outpost was re-established last May. Nine Palestinians, mostly youth, have been killed in the violent protests, which Israeli troops suppress using riot dispersal measures, including rubber-tipped bullets.

In June, the Israeli government reached an agreement with the dozens of settler families squatting, which saw them vacate the northern West Bank hilltop in exchange for the army agreeing to leave illegally erected mobile homes intact and a permanent military presence installed to secure the area. The government also agreed to conduct a survey of the land and install a full-time religious seminary followed by a full-fledged settlement there if it was found to not belong to private Palestinian landowners.

The survey determined that small parts of the land, historically farmed by Beita residents, could be designated as belonging to the state, and now it is up to Defense Minister Benny Gantz to fulfill his promise to the settlers.

In one of his last moves as attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit controversially signed off on a plan to legalize the outpost, but Gantz still faces opposition from left-wing members of the coalition, who warn that such a move would significantly damage Israel’s international standing. The Biden administration has also raised its concern over the matter privately, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

“We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes settlement activity,” a State Department official said in response to a query on the matter.

Peace Now activists march during a protest against reestablishing a wildcat outpost of Evyatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Palestinians weren’t the only ones protesting against Evyatar on Friday. Hundreds of Israeli left-wing activists, including several lawmakers, marched toward the outpost around the same time, demanding the government scrap the planned compromise deal with settlers to legalize the wildcat community.

Police stopped marchers from ascending a hill to Evyatar, which has been declared a closed military zone, though some still attempted to reach the outpost.

A right-wing activist was briefly detained by officers for attempting to snatch a banner from a protester, according to police. Meretz MK Mossi Raz said the protester was “assaulted” by officers.

Friday’s protest near Evyatar was one of several Palestinian demonstrations that took place throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Israeli security forces were on high alert at the tail end of a week of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Police bolstered Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem’s Old City and the Damascus Gate area with additional officers and Border Police troops after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a Thursday assessment on the tensions, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Palestinians and activists take part in a protest in Jerusalem’s flashpoint east neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on February 18, 2022. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Hundreds of Palestinians held Friday prayers in Sheikh Jarrah in what has become a common form of protest in the neighborhood over the past year. Demonstrators clashed with police several times throughout the afternoon and footage showed officers sometimes violently shoving protesters, but there were no reports of arrests or injuries.

A police statement said a “riot” broke out during the protest, with some of the demonstrators blocking roads and refusing to obey officers’ orders. Police also said “calls of incitement” were heard and acknowledged officers “shoved the rioters at the scene.”

“Unfortunately some of the rioting was led by and at the instruction of elected representatives who arrived at the scene,” the police statement added in an apparent reference to Joint List MK Ofer Cassif, which images showed him sitting in the street with other protesters.

Police have had an increased presence in the flashpoint neighborhood since the beginning of the week after clashes were touched off by the alleged weekend firebombing of a home where a Jewish family lives.

Israeli riot police officers scuffle with protesters during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, February 18, 2022. Pictured on the ground in a blue sweater is Joint List MK Ofer Cassif. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Sheikh Jarrah, a majority Palestinian neighborhood also home to a number of Israeli Jewish families, is regularly a focus of protests due to a push by some right-wing Israelis to evict Palestinian families from homes they say were owned by Jews before 1948.

Israeli officials fear the clashes in Sheikh Jarrah may once again snowball into open war in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In May, the pending evictions of several Palestinian families from the neighborhood helped fuel clashes in Jerusalem that kicked off an 11-day conflict between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, as well as deadly bouts of street violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

Hamas on Sunday warned of a “severe” response following clashes in Sheikh Jarrah, though tensions there have largely calmed since Tuesday.

The Biden administration is particularly concerned about tensions in Jerusalem bubbling over in April, which will see a confluence of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Christian holiday of Easter. Washington has been urging Israel in recent weeks to take preemptive steps to lower tensions, US and Israeli officials told The Times of Israel earlier this week.

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