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US ‘strongly condemns’ settler assault on Palestinians in South Hebron Hills

State Department official expresses appreciation for ‘unequivocal condemnations’ by Lapid, other Israeli officials, urges both sides to refrain from unilateral steps

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Masked settlers near the Palestinian hamlet of al-Mufaqara in the South Hebron Hills, on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Courtesy)
Masked settlers near the Palestinian hamlet of al-Mufaqara in the South Hebron Hills, on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Courtesy)

The State Department on Thursday spoke out against a violent attack by Israeli settlers on a Palestinian village in the West Bank earlier this week that injured at least 12 people, including a 3-year-old boy.

“The US government strongly condemns the acts of settler violence that took place against Palestinians in villages near Hebron in the West Bank on September 28,” a State Department official said in a statement distributed to journalists who requested comment on the matter.

“We appreciate the Foreign Minister [Yair Lapid’s] and other officials’ strong and unequivocal condemnations of this violence,” the official said.

On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of masked Israelis threw stones at Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills.

The rocks smashed cars and injured at least 12 Palestinians including Mohammad Bakr Hussein, aged three.

In videos from the scene, Israeli settlers can be seen breaking Palestinian car windows and hurling stones at Palestinian homes.

The confrontations took place near the small Palestinian shepherding village of al-Mufaqara, a cluster of homes that straddles two illegal Israeli West Bank outposts, Avigayil and Havat Maon.

Lapid condemned the incident as terrorism and called for justice to be carried out.

Mohammad Bakr Hussein, 3, was allegedly wounded by stones thrown by Israeli settlers in the South Hebron Hills, on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Courtesy)

“This violent incident is horrific and it is terror,” the foreign minister tweeted Wednesday evening. “This isn’t the Israeli way and it isn’t the Jewish way. This is a violent and dangerous fringe and we have a responsibility to bring them to justice.”

Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday evening that “the violent rampage of lawbreakers is intolerable and we will stop it.”

Police arrested three Jewish suspects on Wednesday and two more on Thursday. None of them have been charged yet though.

Israeli authorities rarely arrest Jewish perpetrators in such attacks, making Wednesday’s and Thursday’s arrests an unusual step. Rights groups lament, however, that convictions are even more unusual than arrests, and the vast majority of charges in such attacks are dropped.

The statement from the State Department official concluded with a talking point that the Biden administration has been using for almost a year, saying that “We believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as the annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”

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