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Security forces arrest 3 Palestinian witnesses to suspected stabbing by settler

Israeli murder suspect held incommunicado since Thursday, sparking calls for him to be allowed to meet with his lawyer; second Israeli woman also detained by police, attorneys say

Relatives mourn during the funeral of Palestinian Ali Harb, who Palestinians say was killed by an Israeli settler in the northern West Bank village of Iskaka on June 22, 2022 (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Relatives mourn during the funeral of Palestinian Ali Harb, who Palestinians say was killed by an Israeli settler in the northern West Bank village of Iskaka on June 22, 2022 (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israeli security forces on Sunday morning arrested three Palestinians who participated in a confrontation last week during which an Israeli settler allegedly stabbed a Palestinian to death near Ariel in the West Bank.

Ali Hassan Harb was killed during a confrontation between settlers and Palestinians on the edges of his hometown of Iskaka on Tuesday. The Israelis had apparently come to examine the land to build a new illegal outpost on the plot.

On Sunday afternoon, police detectives also arrested an Israeli woman — a resident of Ariel — who organized the settler group’s visit to the area, according to her attorneys.

The settler suspected of stabbing Harb has been held incommunicado by the Shin Bet internal security service since Thursday. His lawyer says he acted in self-defense; a gag order requested by Israeli police bars the publication of most of the details of the case.

An Israeli security official confirmed the arrests to The Times of Israel, but refused to elaborate on why the three Palestinians had been detained. The Shin Bet declined to comment.

“Three of Harb’s family members who witnessed the incident were arrested, and we still don’t know why or where they are,” Iskaka Mayor Osama Zaher said in a phone call.

Zaher identified the three detainees as Harb’s uncle Naim, an accountant employed by the Palestinian Authority; Naim’s son Firas; and Zaid Harb, who is also the stabbed Palestinian’s cousin.

Naim Harb had filed a formal complaint about the stabbing with the Israel Police on Wednesday following the incident, according to his family.

Palestinian witnesses said Harb, a 27-year-old engineer, was stabbed in the heart by the Israeli settler “for no reason.” According to Palestinians, police and soldiers were present at the scene but did not immediately arrest him.

Right-wing Israelis protest the detention of an Israeli settler suspected of stabbing a Palestinian to death near Ariel, at a protest on Saturday, June 25, 2022 (Credit: Honenu)

Harb’s death is being investigated by both the Shin Bet and Israel Police’s Nationalist Crimes Unit in the Judea and Samaria Division, which often investigates Jewish extremist violence.

According to the Israeli military, soldiers arrived shortly after Harb was stabbed. Troops suggested that they would take  Harb in an army ambulance to a local hospital, but the Palestinians refused and evacuated him themselves, the army said.

Palestinian witnesses contested that account. Ahmad Harb, who bore his cousin’s body away from the scene, called it “complete and utter lies.”

“The army, the settlement guards, the police, they were all there. They watched while he was stabbed and then prevented us from reaching him for 20 minutes,” said Ahmad.

A lawyer for the suspected Israeli stabber said in a statement that his client had narrowly survived an assault by dozens of Palestinians.

“This was an event in which Jews were miraculously saved. This was a grave incident of Arabs attacking Jews,” said Adi Kedar, an attorney at Honenu, a right-wing legal aid organization that often represents Jews accused of hate crimes.

Hundreds of Israelis protested the man’s detention in front of the Ariel police station on Saturday night. Demonstrators held signs urging police to “arrest the Arab rioters.” During the rally, right-wing lawmakers and prominent settler rabbis lambasted Israeli security forces for detaining him.

“The conditions under which he is being held are inappropriate. It’s not ethical,” dissident Yamina MK Idit Silman told the crowd.

“Thank you for coming out to support him. Most importantly, you’re fighting for our homeland. We will fight together,” Silman said.

Over 25 right-wing MKs signed a letter last week calling on the Shin Bet and police to allow the murder suspect to meet with his lawyer. Left-wing Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz, a prominent supporter of prisoners’ rights, agreed.

“Every man, even the most odious murderer, is entitled to legal representation. I hope that the right-wing MKs who signed this petition…join me in calling for the same rights when it comes to Palestinian suspects,” Raz said.

Palestinian witnesses attested that the incident took place in an area with numerous security cameras attached to a nearby military tower and to the wall of the Ariel settlement.

The surveillance footage could shed further light on the incident, including whether or not Israeli troops were present during the stabbing, Raz said.

“The surveillance footage ought to be released so that we can assess whether or not security forces were in the area,”  Raz wrote in a letter to Public Security Minister Omer Barlev last week.

 

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