Police arrest off-duty soldier filmed setting fire to Palestinian field
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Police arrest off-duty soldier filmed setting fire to Palestinian field

Serviceman from flashpoint West Bank settlement has already been suspended from his combat unit

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Screen capture from video allegedly showing an off-duty Israeli army soldier setting fire to a Palestinian farmer's field, in the northern West Bank, on May 17, 2019. (B'Tselem)
Screen capture from video allegedly showing an off-duty Israeli army soldier setting fire to a Palestinian farmer's field, in the northern West Bank, on May 17, 2019. (B'Tselem)

Police have arrested an off-duty Israeli combat soldier who was filmed setting a Palestinian field on fire in the northern West Bank last month.

Police said in a statement Tuesday that they had opened an investigation into the suspected arson in collaboration with the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Police.

“As part of the investigation, a variety of investigatory measures were taken prior to his arrest, and last night the suspected arsonist soldier was arrested while he was on leave [from the military],” police said in a statement.

“The suspect is being interrogated at this time, and the investigation is ongoing,” police said.

Initially, the Israeli military blamed the May 17 fires in a field outside the Palestinian village of Burin, south of Nablus, on Palestinians in the area. However, several days later, the B’Tselem rights group released footage of a man armed with an army-issue Tavor rifle bending down in a field outside Burin and igniting a brush fire.

A fire apparently started by an Israeli settler outside the Palestinian village of Burin in the northern West Bank on May 17, 2019. (B’tselem)

Following the release of the video, the military acknowledged that at least some of the fires had been started by Israeli settlers.

Last week, the military said that the soldier was suspended from his position in a combat unit.

According to police, the B’Tselem video was a key piece of evidence in the arrest of the off-duty soldier.

“The police opened the investigation into the suspected arson of the underbrush after investigatory materials, including the video, were handed over to the police by the IDF Military Police several days ago,” police said.

“The suspect appears to be filmed in the video setting fire to the field,” police said.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the soldier, who lives in the northern West Bank, had been arrested before joining the army, on charges of firing an air pistol at a Palestinian taxi.

The nearby settlement of Yitzhar and its surrounding outposts are seen as an epicenter of settler violence and have often been linked to attacks on Palestinians and their property, including in Urif in April, as well as clashes with Israeli security forces.

Last week, police arrested an Israeli teenager suspected of of hurling stones, assaulting officers and damaging their vehicles in an altercation outside the flashpoint settlement. He is accused of being one of what police said were dozens of masked Israelis who attacked their convoy, requiring security forces at the scene to request backup.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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