ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Shin Bet detains 3 suspects following settler reprisal attacks in West Bank

Honenu group says trio of Jewish settlers denied legal counsel; new footage from one rampage in Palestinian town shows masked settler ripping book, said to be Quran, outside mosque

Three Jewish Israeli residents of West Bank settlements have been arrested by the Shin Bet in recent days and are being held for questioning, according to the right-wing legal aid group Honenu.

Honenu said the three detained suspects are being denied legal counsel and promised to file an urgent appeal, describing the decision as “extraordinary” in a brief statement late Thursday. The organization said the three suspects are in their twenties, and one is married.

The reported arrests come amid a series of reprisal attacks this week by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank following a deadly terror shooting on Tuesday near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were gunned down at a gas station. On Tuesday night, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, and hundreds of Israeli settlers also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif on Wednesday afternoon — shortly after the victims of Tuesday’s attack were buried — setting homes, cars, and fields on fire and terrorizing residents.

Urif is the hometown of the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the shooting attack Tuesday.

On Thursday evening, Palestinian media outlets reported violent clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians near the West Bank village of Jalud, close to the settlement of Shiloh, and not far from Eli. Footage on social media showed settlers and Palestinians hurling stones at each other in the area. Another image showed a large fire burning near the village.

The settler reprisal attacks this week appeared to be a grim repeat of an incident in Huwara some termed a “pogrom” earlier this year, after another deadly Palestinian shooting attack in February. The Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces detained at least 16 suspects over that incident, all of whom were eventually released without charge. Of those arrested, two were held in administrative detention for a few months, a controversial practice used by the defense minister against terror suspects that allows individuals to be held without charge for six months at a time. The order is renewable indefinitely and allows military prosecutors to keep suspects from being able to see the evidence against them.

Earlier Thursday, security footage of one of the settler rampages on Wednesday showed a masked settler in Urif ripping apart a book and throwing the pages on the ground at a mosque in the city. Hebrew media reports said the book was a Quran but that could not yet be verified.

In the 60-second video, the man — who is accompanied by a black leash dog — can be seen ripping pages out of several books and throwing them to the ground, as other masked suspects mill around.

The military has condemned Wednesday’s attacks, stressing that the settler violence made it harder for the army to focus on its main mission — protecting Israeli civilians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday also denounced the rioting in a statement that also addressed unrelated clashes in the Golan Heights between local Druze residents and the police, calling on Israelis to obey the law. The prime minister’s office also announced the impending authorization of 1,000 new homes in Eli as Israel’s “response to terror.”

The US has also publicly condemned the reprisal attacks by settlers, with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides warning on Thursday that the Biden administration would “not stand by and watch settler violence occur.”

“No one should have to worry about a rogue army,” the ambassador said at a Tel Aviv gathering of young Israelis and Palestinians organized by the Geneva Initiative. “We’re pushing the Israelis to take whatever action they need to take to stop those people.”

A field fire during clashes between Palestinians and settlers near the Palestinian village of Qusra in the West Bank on June 22, 2023. (Flash90)

On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel began his press briefing by issuing a statement condemning the Palestinian shooting attack Tuesday before noting the “troubling” reports of subsequent settler violence across the West Bank.

“Accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence,” Patel said, using the same talking point from February after hundreds of settlers ransacked Huwara, leaving one Palestinian dead in unclear circumstances, and scores injured.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s envoy for Middle East peace, denounced Wednesday’s violence by “Israeli vigilante settlers, against Palestinian residents, land & properties, including a school & an ambulance, in villages around Nablus & Ramallah…”

“I condemn all acts of terror against civilians,” he tweeted, adding that “Israel, as the Occupying Power, must ensure that the civilian population is protected against all acts of violence, and that perpetrators are held to account.”

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high across the West Bank for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including Tuesday’s victims. Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted troops carrying out arrest raids, military posts, Israeli settlements and civilians on roads, especially in the northern West Bank.

IDF soldiers and settlers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 132 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

Israel’s Army Radio reported Thursday evening that Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar met with senior UN officials to discuss the deteriorating situation in the West Bank. Bar reportedly warned that the Palestinian Authority has lost control of some areas in the northern West Bank, leading to the uptick in violence, and said the Israeli military was being forced to operate in these areas.

The Shin Bet has recorded 147 “significant” terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank this year, including 120 shootings, a spokesperson told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The Shin Bet said security forces have foiled 375 significant attacks so far this year, including some 300 planned shootings. “Significant attacks” is a term that encompasses shootings, bombings, car rammings and kidnappings.

In 2022, Israeli security officials recorded nearly 300 shooting attacks, the vast majority in the West Bank, and said the military and Shin Bet foiled around 500 planned significant attacks.

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