Dozens of masked settlers attacked a police convoy in the northern West Bank on Saturday afternoon, requiring security forces at the scene to request backup after far-right activists hurled stones at them and slashed the tires of their vehicles, authorities said.
Police said that forces were responding to a report of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in the area of the Kipah Srugah outpost, north of the settlement of Yitzhar.
Authorities broke up the clashes and were making their way out of the area when they came under attack by settlers, police said. The forces called for police and military backup, but the suspects managed to flee the scene.
Photos provided by police showed the tires of two vehicles completely gashed and the side mirrors smashed by the far-right activists, who were armed with knives and stones.
In a statement recapping the “serious and violent incident,” police said they were working to track down the assailants.
The Yitzhar secretariat released a statement categorically rejecting the police’s account of the Saturday afternoon incident. The town leadership said that contrary to what authorities had claimed, no clashes broke out between Israelis and Palestinians in the area.
According to the statement, a group of Yitzhar youth had stopped outside of the settlement after returning from a hike in the area when Border Police pulled up and ordered them to immediately evacuate the area.
“Without any justification, the forces used harsh violence against them,” the Yitzhar secretariat said. “Instead of admitting their mistake, the police used disproportionate force against the residents, causing tempers to further flare.”
One Israeli resident suffered a head injury and was evacuated for medical treatment after Shabbat ended, the statement said.
Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts have been the scene of dozens of violent clashes in recent years.
Last Friday, Israelis from the northern West Bank community clashed with neighboring Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of torching their fields. Several days later, the B’Tselem rights group released footage showing two Israeli men entering grasslands, crouching down and walking away. Seconds later, flames could be seen in the area where they’d been standing.
In addition, groups of male settlers can be seen throwing rocks at Palestinians’ homes near the villages of Burin and Asirah al-Qibliyah, south of the city of Nablus.
B’Tselem accused the military of failing to stop the Israeli men from carrying out these attacks and preventing the Palestinian residents of the area from extinguishing the flames.
Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts have also been seen by the security establishment as an epicenter of settler violence and have often been linked to attacks on Palestinians and their property, including in Urif last month.
Far-right Israelis justify targeting Palestinians and sometimes IDF soldiers in so-called price tag attacks, ostensibly in retaliation for terror attacks and Israeli government actions deemed hostile to the settler movement.
In December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report that showed a 69 percent increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2018 compared to 2017.