ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Relatives of Palestinian killed during settler riot say he was shot by ‘IDF troops’

Cousin of 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash says IDF fired live bullets trying to break up clashes; military officials admit they were unprepared for rampage, failed to contain violence

Sameh Aqtash, who was killed in the settler rampage of Huwara on February 27, 2023. (Courtesy)
Sameh Aqtash, who was killed in the settler rampage of Huwara on February 27, 2023. (Courtesy)

The relatives of a Palestinian man killed during Sunday’s settler rampage in Huwara claimed Monday that he was shot by soldiers as the family attempted to defend themselves from the riots.

Hours after a shooting attack that killed brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, hundreds of extremist settlers descended on the Palestinian town in the northern West Bank, the site of the terror attack, and set fire to homes, storefronts and cars.

A Palestinian man, 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash, who lived in the nearby town of Za’tara, was killed by gunfire during the rampage, in circumstances that remained unclear almost 24 hours later.

Aqtash’s cousin told the Haaretz newspaper that settlers, some of them armed, attacked multiple homes belonging to the extended Aqtash family, at which point some members of the family emerged to fight with them in an effort to defend their houses.

Ayman Aqtash, the victim’s cousin, claimed that IDF soldiers then arrived and attempted to separate the sides. In the confrontation, he said, the military began using tear gas, smoke grenades, and live fire against the Palestinians, hitting the victim.

The family said Aqtash had returned from Turkey four days ago, where he participated in a Palestinian aid delegation dispatched to help search for survivors following the massive February 6 earthquake.

A man walks past destroyed cars at a scrapyard in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank on February 27, 2023, after they were torched overnight. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority health ministry laid the blame for Aqtash’s death on “the aggression of the army and settlers.”

Haaretz said that the ministry did not specify the source of the shooting. “Aqtash’s family requested to bury him immediately, before an autopsy could be conducted in order to determine” the cause of death, the report said.

A military official told The Times of Israel that Israeli troops were not involved in the shooting that killed Aqtash. A police spokesperson also said officers were not involved, and it remained unclear if he was shot by settlers.

According to Haaretz, there were at least two armed Israeli civilians wearing military gear walking in the streets of Huwara on Sunday night. The newspaper’s police reporter, Josh Breiner, and Army Radio’s settlements correspondent, Shahar Glick, said one man opened fire at them as they were reporting on the riots.

Israel Police spokesman Dean Elsdunne said eight Israelis were detained in connection with Sunday’s rioting, and that six had already been released.

Israeli security officials have admitted that they failed in anticipating and preventing the violent settler riots in Huwara on Sunday evening.

Security forces failed to contain the violence for hours despite early warnings of a planned 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.

Cars and homes are torched by settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“I am responsible for the security of Israelis and Palestinians,” an unnamed senior IDF official was quoted as saying by Channel 12 on Monday. “I failed on both.”

A separate security official told the TV network that “there were calls on social networks to go out and do this. It was known; it wasn’t a surprise.” The official said it was a clear case of “lack of preparedness to prevent the takeover of hundreds of settlers who started rioting.”

A security source cited by the Kan public broadcaster said the rioting in Huwara only made it harder for troops to search for the gunman who killed the Israeli brothers, who remained at large as of late Monday evening.

Soldiers are legally permitted — even required in some cases — to intervene to prevent violent attacks, regardless of nationality. The military generally prefers that police deal with the attacks and settler arrests, but police forces are stretched thin in the West Bank.

Border Police officers reportedly attempted to disperse the settlers with tear gas.

A spokesperson for Border Police did not respond to requests for comment on the violence.

A security source told Channel 12 that MKs and ministers who have voiced support for the actions of radical settlers “are confusing the people on the ground. They need to decide if they are the law or not.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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