Police detain eight more suspects over extremist settler rampage in Huwara

Law enforcement officials say three minors among suspects held in connection with mob violence in Palestinian town on suspicion of assault, arson, rioting; one later released

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A Palestinian man walks between scorched cars in a scrapyard, in the town of Hawara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 27, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
A Palestinian man walks between scorched cars in a scrapyard, in the town of Hawara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 27, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Police on Wednesday said officers detained another eight suspects allegedly involved in riots in the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara earlier this week, which saw hundreds of settler extremists set fire to homes, storefronts and cars in response to a deadly Palestinian terror attack

According to a police spokeswoman, six suspects, including two minors, were detained in the predawn hours of Wednesday over their suspected involvement in the riots on Sunday night.

Later Wednesday, another two suspects, including one minor, were detained.

Police said the suspects were suspected of “rioting, setting fire to vehicles and buildings, assaulting Palestinians, causing damage to property in Huwara.”

The suspects were questioned and were to be brought before a Jerusalem court to request an extension of their remand.

One of the suspects detained in the morning hours was released after being questioned.

The Shin Bet security agency was also involved in the investigation of the rampage, which saw one Palestinian killed, scores injured and dozens of Palestinian homes and cars set on fire.

Hours after a shooting attack that killed brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, from the settlement of Har Bracha, hundreds of extremist settlers descended on the Palestinian town in the northern West Bank, the site of the terror attack, and carried out what a top general called a “pogrom.”

“What happened in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by lawbreakers,” chief of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, told Channel 12 news in an interview Tuesday night. “We were not ready for a pogrom on the scale of dozens of people with flammable material and the means to set it on fire, heading to 20 or more places — as well as confronting soldiers and commanders and police at the junction — and setting random Palestinian homes and cars on fire.”

Security forces failed to contain the violence for hours despite early warnings of a planned violent protest in Huwara. Troops were also preoccupied with searching for the gunman who killed the Israeli brothers, as well as dealing with settlers who had defiantly returned to the evacuated Evyatar outpost.

Eight Israeli suspects detained on the night of the rioting were released, three of them to house arrest, according to law enforcement officials.

Military chief Herzi Halevi vowed to “thoroughly investigate” the riots.

“The grave events of lawlessness in Huwara after the severe attack will be thoroughly investigated,” Halevi said in remarks provided by the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday.

Palestinians inspect a damaged house and scorched cars in the town of Huwara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Police said they had no information about officers being involved in the killing of a Palestinian man, Sameh Aqtash, in nearby Za’tara during the rioting on Sunday night. A military official told The Times of Israel that Israeli soldiers were not involved in the shooting that killed Aqtash, 37. His family has claimed he was shot by Israeli forces.

Halevi also condemned several incidents of violence by settlers against Israeli troops amid the riots in Huwara and other areas of the West Bank.

Halevi has also vowed to capture the gunmen who carried out a deadly shooting attack near the West Bank city of Jericho on Monday that killed American-Israeli Elan Ganeles.

The attacker who carried out the deadly shooting in Huwara, killing the Yaniv brothers, was believed to be hiding out in one of the Palestinian towns in the area. The gunmen who killed Ganeles fled toward the Jericho area after police attempted to engage them.

The military has bolstered the West Bank with four additional infantry battalions following the attack and subsequent settler rioting in Huwara.

In recent months, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted military posts and troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements and civilians on the roads.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

A string of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks left 11 people dead and several more seriously hurt.

Over 60 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

There has also been a noted rise in settler violence toward Palestinians in recent months.

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