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Police arrest 2 settlers accused of attacking soldiers, Palestinian in West Bank

Suspects attacked troops called to the area after extremist Israelis reportedly destroyed a Palestinian olive grove nearby

Israeli settlers are seen surrounding an IDF vehicle near the settlement of Adei Ad, October 13, 2021. (Video screenshot/courtesy)
Israeli settlers are seen surrounding an IDF vehicle near the settlement of Adei Ad, October 13, 2021. (Video screenshot/courtesy)

Israel Police officers arrested two settlers on Sunday morning for allegedly macing two soldiers and attacking a Palestinian man outside an illegal outpost in the central West Bank last week, the police said.

Last Wednesday, a group of Israeli settlers from the wildcat Adei Ad outpost allegedly destroyed a Palestinian-owned olive grove near the village of al-Mughayyir, northeast of Ramallah. An officer and a conscripted soldier from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration were called to the scene to assess the damage.

While the Civil Administration soldiers were speaking to Akram Na’asan about the alleged vandalism attack, a group of young settlers, some of whom were wearing masks and holding metal rods, attacked him and tried to grab him, the Palestinian farmer said.

During the attack, assailants “came up to the soldiers’ car and sprayed Mace in their face, threatened them and fled the scene,” the police said.

Police said two suspects — 19 and 27 years old, both from the Samaria region of the northern West Bank — were arrested Sunday morning for their role in the attack on the Palestinian man and the two soldiers.

They were brought in for questioning with a detention order and will be brought before a judge in a Jerusalem court later in the day, police said.

According to Na’asan, the incident began when at least four settlers entered a grove of olive trees belonging to him, setting them alight. Israeli authorities arrived on the scene and put out the fire. Na’asan then met with liaisons from Israel’s military government, known as the Civil Administration, later that same evening.

“I went down to talk to the soldiers and tell them what had happened… the settlers tried to grab me away from the soldiers, but the soldiers stopped them. Then as we were getting out, the settlers sprayed us with pepper gas,” he said in a phone call with The Times of Israel.

Reinforcements arrived shortly after and expelled the settlers from the area, Na’asan said.

Following the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi in a statement strongly condemned the “repeated incidents of crime and violence against IDF soldiers.

“Crime against IDF soldiers by civilians is unacceptable and requires a quick and strict response to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kohavi said.

In recent incidents, one officer was injured on Monday night in a violent settler attack on Border Police troops near the flashpoint settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank. On Saturday, a group of extremist settlers set fire to grasslands and threw rocks at homes in the Palestinian village of Burin. Video footage from the scene showed Israeli soldiers standing by during the attack, without intervening.

On Friday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the military to act “systemically, aggressively and uncompromisingly” against violence by Israeli settlers toward Palestinians and Israeli security forces in light of a number of high profile incidents.

Recent weeks have seen an uptick in attacks by extremist settlers, many of them specifically targeting Palestinian olive groves ahead of the fall olive harvest in the West Bank, which began earlier this month.

“This isn’t the first time that this happened during the olive harvest. In 2003, and 2007, and 2011, we’ve had cars burned, tractors burned, my horses have been shot. We’re always seeing problems like this as we work the land,” Na’asan charged.

Assault and vandalism by settlers against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks. Perpetrators claim that they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement. Arrests and prosecutions are rare.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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