Hilltop youth bust out of bus on way to isolation

Settlers hurl stones at group of Palestinian farmers, rights group says

IDF troops arrive at scene of clash in central West Bank and disperse Palestinians with stun grenades and tear gas, leading to hospitalization of two villagers

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Tear gas fired as settlers and Palestinians fight near the West Bank town of Qusra on April 6, 2020. (Courtesy: Qusra Municipality)
Tear gas fired as settlers and Palestinians fight near the West Bank town of Qusra on April 6, 2020. (Courtesy: Qusra Municipality)

The IDF broke up a clash between settlers and Palestinians which was instigated by a group of young Israelis who hurled stones at a several farmers working their plots in the central West Bank, a rights group reported Monday.

The Israeli settlers descended from the direction of the hardline Esh Kodesh outpost toward the group of farmers on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Qusra, Yesh Din said a statement.

After the sides began fighting, Israeli forces arrived and used riot dispersal measure including stun grenades and tear gas to distance the Palestinians.

Two farmers were evacuated to a nearby hospital for tear-gas inhalation treatment, Yesh Din reported.

In a separate incident on Monday, a group of 20 hilltop youth shattered the windows of the bus that was taking them to a state-run isolation site in southern Israel, police said in a statement.

Several of the far-right activists managed to flee the bus, but were subsequently apprehended by Border Police.

The group had initially been ferried to Jerusalem for isolation in a hotel there, but refused the service, leading authorities to provide an alternative in southern Israel that evidently was not acceptable to the extremist activists.

The bus driver was ordered to return the group to Jerusalem, and authorities are considering where to place them next.

Police said an investigation will be opened against the teens over the bus vandalism.

The 20 youngsters were ordered into isolation after one of their peers was found to be a coronavirus carrier. This teen was also responsible for placing Central Command head Nadav Padan in quarantine, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Monday’s earlier incident was the latest reported attack on Palestinians at the hands of Israeli settlers, which have increased in recent months, despite the imposition of tough restrictions by authorities on both sides of the Green Line aimed at keeping civilians at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In March, the security establishment documented 16 attacks on Palestinians, up from nine in February and five in January, an official said, confirming an earlier report in the Haaretz daily. The B’Tselem rights group that operates in the West Bank said the numbers were higher, and that it had documented 21 violent attacks in March alone, with a majority of incidents taking place after the government had ordered schools shut.

Last week, police handed out fines to three residents of the extremist Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar who roamed 100 meters beyond the neighborhood in the direction of a nearby Palestinian village, in violation of coronavirus guidelines, a Border Police spokesman told The Times of Israel.

Earlier in March, the Yesh Din watchdog group published photos of a group of 15 masked and armed settlers descending from a northern West Bank hilltop where the dismantled settlement of Homesh had been located, and hurling stones at Palestinians from the nearby village of Burqa. A police report was filed, but a law enforcement spokeswoman said she was unaware of the incident.

A Palestinian farmer from Umm-Safa allegedly assaulted by Israeli farmers on March 24, 2020. (Yesh Din)

The Israel Defense Forces has also reported an uptick in Palestinian stone-throwing targeting Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads.

Twice in one week last month, security forces set up ambushes at hotspots in the northern West Bank, firing at and injuring Palestinians who were throwing stones, according to the army.

In addition to attacks on Palestinians, Jewish extremist violence against Israeli security forces also peaked last month.

In one attack, Israelis hurled three Molotov cocktails at a Border Police vehicle just outside the flashpoint Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank.

No officers were injured in the incident, but damage was caused to the jeep, Border Police said in a statement, describing the incident as a “terror attack.”

The troops had been leaving Yitzhar after operating in the area to enforce a closed military zone order around Kumi Ori, according to officials.

The order was put in place last October following a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and security forces perpetrated by a number of young settlers from the area. While a tense relative calm has largely held since then, the situation had spiraled when settlers clashed with Border Police who arrived in Kumi Ori as locals were attempting to build a synagogue there.

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