ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Smotrich accuses PM, Gallant of 'total loss of control'

Smotrich urges closing Huwara’s Palestinian shops until bypass road built for settlers

Visiting West Bank town after shooting attack and settler unrest, far-right minister knocks top security officials over response to violence, says ‘things can’t continue like this’

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (seated with blazer) in the northern West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023. (via Facebook; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (seated with blazer) in the northern West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023. (via Facebook; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Friday toured Huwara, following clashes there between settlers and Palestinians after a gunman opened fire on an Israeli family that was driving through the northern West Bank town.

The shooting in Huwara, which resulted in no injuries, was the latest attack in the Palestinian town, which has long been a flashpoint. The West Bank’s main north-south artery, Route 60, runs through Huwara and is regularly used by Israelis traveling to and from settlements in the area.

The assailant in Thursday’s shooting was shot dead by troops hours after fleeing the scene of the attack.

Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism party and is also a minister in the Defense Ministry with broad authority over civilian affairs in the West Bank, charged that Iran was behind the recent series of attacks while swiping at top security officials over their response to the violence.

“The Israeli security establishment must internalize and act in accordance with the characteristics of this [terror] wave,” he said in a statement.

Smotrich said he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, telling him “things cannot continue like this.” Smotrich added that he believed Netanyahu agreed “with the necessary change in approach.”

“We will not be silent until — with the help of God — we restore security and calm to all Israeli citizens,” he said.

Smotrich also called on Netanyahu to order that Palestinian stores in Huwara remain closed until work on a bypass road for settlers that has dragged on for years is completed.

Dashcam footage shows a gunman shooting at an Israeli-owned vehicle with a family inside, in the West Bank town of Huwara, October 5, 2023. (Screenshot)

The minister was accompanied by Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot, Samaria Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and other settler leaders.

Smotrich’s trip to Huwara came as the Israel Defense Forces again briefly closed Route 60 during the funeral for a Palestinian who the military said was shot by troops after hurling a large cinderblock on an Israeli-owned vehicle.

Images from Huwara showed Palestinians setting alight tires and other objects, with the Red Crescent reporting 51 hurt in clashes with Israeli troops after the funeral for 19-year-old Labib Muhammad Labib Dhamidi, most of them from the effects of tear gas.

After the funeral, Smotrich fired off a letter to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, claiming a military official had lied about the circumstances of the road closure.

Smotrich demanded a “comprehensive investigation” into why the road had been blocked for an extended period of time, and whether it had been coordinated with the Palestinian Authority ahead of time.

Smotrich called the road closure a “serious incident” and the riots a “total loss of control.”

Smoke billows from burning tires as Palestinians clash with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Following Thursday’s shooting attack, Netanyahu called for top defense officials to step up anti-terror efforts in the West Bank and to accelerate the construction of the bypass road, as demanded by settler officials who accuse his hardline coalition of failing to rein in terror.

Hours after the attack, Religious Zionism lawmaker Sukkot set up a sukkah on Huwara’s main highway, requiring an additional company of soldiers to be dispatched to the town in order to secure the presence of dozens of ultranationalist settlers who joined the lawmaker, Haaretz reported.

Dozens of settlers protesting the shooting also marched through Huwara — some damaging Palestinian property, which led to clashes with locals, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the groups threw rocks at each other, leading to some light injuries as well as some damage to vehicles. Three Israelis were lightly injured in the clashes, the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service said.

The settlers eventually left the town following the clashes. There were no reports of arrests made.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank since the beginning of the year have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and several others seriously wounded.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 194 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians have been killed during the same period — the majority during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed in unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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