Settler rioting slammed by US, Abbas as some point finger at government

PA leader, members of Israeli opposition say Netanyahu’s administration giving tailwind to incidents like deadly Huwara rampage, while allies press Jerusalem to deal with violence

Israeli security forces deploy in Huwara on February 26, 2023 following the deaths of two Israelis in a shooting attack. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli security forces deploy in Huwara on February 26, 2023 following the deaths of two Israelis in a shooting attack. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

A deadly rampage by Israeli settlers through a Palestinian town Sunday night in response to a terror shooting sparked swift and severe criticism at home and abroad, along with calls for Israel to take tougher action against settler violence.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces” Sunday night.

“We hold the Israeli government fully responsible,” he added, claiming that the settlers had taken their cue from “the positions of some ministers in this extreme right-wing Israeli government.”

Palestinian medics said one man was killed and four others were badly wounded during the violence in the Palestinian town of Huwara and other villages neighboring Nablus. Settler groups had called for demonstrations to avenge Palestinian shooting attack in Huwara earlier in the day in which two Israeli brothers in their 20s were killed.

Palestinian media said some 30 homes and cars were torched. Photos and video on social media showed large fires burning throughout Huwara and lighting up the sky.

Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the Nablus region. said that settlers burned at least six houses and dozens of cars in Huwara, and reported attacks on other neighboring Palestinian villages. He estimated around 400 Jewish settlers took part in the attack.

“I’ve never seen such an attack,” he said.

Israeli settlers hold a protest and allegedly set fire to homes and cars in the West Bank town of Huwara, February 25, 2023. (Courtesy)

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US “condemns today’s violence in the West Bank, including the terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property.”

“These developments underscore the imperative to immediately de-escalate tensions in words and deeds,” he wrote on Twitter. “The United States will continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians and our regional partners towards restoring calm.”

The European Union said it was “alarmed by today’s violence” in Huwara, and said “authorities on all sides must intervene now to stop this endless cycle of violence.”

The UK’s ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, called on Israel to “tackle settler violence, with those responsible brought to justice.”

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian politician who has headed up contacts with Israel, tweeted that the settler attack was an “unprecedented escalation” and that “all options” were on the table for the Palestinian Authority “to confront this new fascism.”

“We once again call on the international community to protect our people from this brutality and crime,” he added.

Hussein al-Sheikh at his office in Ramallah, Monday, June 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Many in Israel also spoke out against the violence. Labor party leader Merav Michaeli accused senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of legitimizing “the terrorists now going around Hawara setting fire to and destroying everything in their path.

“This cancerous growth that threatens the country must be excised as soon as possible, before it leads us to utter ruin,” she added.

Netanyahu himself issued a statement calling on those seeking to avenge the earlier terror shooting to not resort to vigilantism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the Hawara terror attack, February 26, 2023 (screenshot/PMO)

“I am asking, while blood is boiling and winds are high — don’t take the law into your hands,” he added. “I ask that you allow the IDF and security forces to do their work.”

President Isaac Herzog issued similar remarks. “Taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting, and committing violence against innocents — this is not our way, and I express my forceful condemnation,” he said in a statement.

Ta’al party head Ahmed Tibi shared a picture of fires burning, labeling it “Kristallnacht in Huwara,” and others also referred to the bloody riot as a pogrom.

MK Ofer Cassif of the allied Hadash party wrote that the violence was the work of “settler terror militias” working under the protection of the “occupation regime” to carry out “war crimes.”

The shooting attack earlier Sunday left brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv dead as they drove through Huwara, a Palestinian town regularly traversed by Israeli motorists and often a flashpoint of tensions.

Brothers Hallel (left) and Yagel Yaniv, who were killed in a terror attack in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

The Israel Defense Forces said the Palestinian gunman opened fire from close range on the Yanivs’ car on the Route 60 highway, then fled the scene, apparently on foot.

There have been several shooting attacks on Israeli motorists on Route 60 in Huwara. There are plans to build a bypass road for settlers to avoid having to travel through the Palestinian town, but the construction work has been stalled.

In recent months, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted military posts, 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.

Israeli security forces secure the scene of a shooting attack in Huwara, in the West Bank, near Nablus, February 26, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

A string of Palestinian terror 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 attacks against Palestinians in response to recent terror attacks. On Saturday, Israeli settlers torched a number of Palestinian-owned cars in the village of Burin, close to Nablus.

The attack on Sunday came as Israeli and Palestinian officials, including al-Sheikh, sat down for a US-sponsored meeting in Jordan in a bid to restore calm to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The parties issued a joint communique in which Israel committed to temporarily hold off on advancing “unilateral measures” for the next three to six months.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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