Israel Police detained five Jewish West Bank settler activists Monday on suspicion of involvement in the torching of a Palestinian car and a subsequent violent clash between settlers and IDF troops.
Two of the suspects were arrested and the other three were detained for questioning, police said in a statement. One of the suspects is believed to be the culprit in setting alight the vehicle near the Palestinian village of Urif last week.
Soldiers involved in the clash had filed a police complaint against settlers they accused of assaulting them.
At least four of the suspects were men in their thirties from the hardline settlement of Yitzhar.
Local residents said dozens of police swooped in for an early morning raid and accused officers of brutal treatment of the suspects.
Residents also claimed that the arrest raid was only carried out to justify IDF accusations against the settlers and said the men were not involved in the torching or the clash.
Last week, the IDF said troops were physically and verbally assaulted by a group of settlers near Urif.
The military said the incident began Wednesday after troops spotted a Palestinian-owned car being set on fire in the area, close to Yitzhar, and began a pursuit after the suspects.
An Israeli-owned vehicle in the area “drove wildly toward the forces” and Israeli civilians blocked IDF vehicles who were chasing the arson suspects, pushed the soldiers, and tried to break into a military vehicle, the IDF said.
The suspects were not immediately detained.
Footage from the incident showed a group of settlers confronting the soldiers in the area.
מפקד פלוגה בגולני הגיש תלונה במשטרה נגד תושבים מיצהר שלדבריו כמעט ודרסו אותו אתמול במהלך מרדף אחרי חשודים יהודים בהצתת רכבים של פלסטינים בשומרון. בצה"ל רואים את המקרה בחומרה. דו"צ: "צה״ל מגנה כל גילוי אלימות כלפי חיילים וכוחות הביטחון" pic.twitter.com/Q65Qxm95yE
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) February 16, 2023
A complaint was filed with police, which launched an investigation into the incident.
No soldiers were reported to have been wounded.
Footage published by Palestinian media on Wednesday showed the burning car allegedly targeted by settlers.
مصادر محلية: مستوطنون يحرقون مركبة خلال هجوم نفذوه على قرية عوريف جنوب نابلس. pic.twitter.com/BwqsOZRWPh
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) February 14, 2023
Incidents of vandalism against Palestinians and Israeli security forces are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks, with perpetrators claiming they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.
Arrests of perpetrators are rare and rights groups lament that convictions are even more unusual, with the majority of charges in such cases being dropped.
Reports of nationalist crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank surged in recent weeks, following several terror attacks.
Last year, there were several incidents of settlers assaulting soldiers who tried to prevent them from attacking Palestinians.
The recent incident came at a time of rising violence in the region, with the Israeli military pressing on with an anti-terror offensive in the West Bank which has netted more than 2,500 arrests, left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 48 since the beginning of the year.
Many of them were killed while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.
The operation was launched to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and 11 more since the beginning of this year.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.