Security official calls attack 'attempted murder''

Yitzhar area settlers hurl fire bombs at troops in ‘terror attack’ — police

No officers injured, but vehicle damaged in incident, drawing swift condemnation from Israeli leaders

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

Molotov cocktails hurled at Border Police outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)
Molotov cocktails hurled at Border Police outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

Israelis hurled three Molotov cocktails at a Border Police vehicle just outside the flashpoint Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank, authorities said Thursday night.

No officers were injured in the incident, but damage was caused to the jeep, The Border Police said in a statement.

The statement termed the incident a “terror attack.”

A security official who spoke to The Times of Israel on the condition of anonymity labeled the attack, “attempted murder in every sense.”

The troops had been leaving Yitzhar after operating in the area to enforce a closed military zone order around the Kumi Ori outpost just southwest of the settlement, according to the paramilitary force.

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 began spiraling on Wednesday when settlers clashed with Border Police who arrived in Kumi Ori as locals were attempting to build a synagogue there.

Five Israelis were arrested on charges of assaulting officers and violating a closed military zone order, which allows only the seven families who are official residents of the outpost to be there.

Most of the outpost lies in Area B of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civil control and where Israelis are not allowed to live under the Oslo Accords.

Among those arrested was Yitzhar resident and prominent far-right activist Meir Ettinger. Ettinger, who is the grandson of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and has an extensive history of terror activity, was released later that day along with the other assailants.

Damaged caused to a Border Police vehicle after settlers hurled Molotov cocktails at it outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

Just over an hour after Thursday’s incident was first reported, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement of condemnation. “[Such an attack] is a crime whenever it takes place, but is now doubly so as Border Police and security forces seek to help us cope with the coronavirus crisis,” he said.

Border Police officers have been drafted into helping enforce stay-at-home orders put in place on Wednesday, and troops are also readying to join the effort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called the incident a “disgrace,” adding in a statement that he had directed security forces “to act in every way to locate the criminals and to bring them to justice.”

In addition to attacks on security forces, rights groups have reported that settlers in the northern West Bank have also been targeting area Palestinians in recent days.

Earlier Thursday, the Yesh Din watchdog group published photos of a group of 15 masked and armed settlers descending from the 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.

Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)

A nearly identical incident took place two days earlier, in which the settlers entered the field of a Palestinian farmer from Burqa, tearing down a fence and damaging his crops, Yesh Din said. Nearby villagers who saw the scene unfold arrived to assist the farmer, where a stone-throwing clash unfolded.

Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene and separated the sides, leading the settlers back toward the abandoned hilltop. The site belongs to a group of Palestinian farmers, who just last month were given permission for the first time since the 2005 evacuation to access their lands. However, a hard-line national-religious yeshiva continues to operate there on a daily basis, with no intervention by the army.

Incidents of Israeli and Palestinian violence were reported in a number of locations throughout the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, with perpetrators evidently refusing to heed government guidelines to stay inside due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have sharpened restrictions in recent days to halt the spread of the virus, forbidding people from venturing outside aside from exceptional cases.

An Israeli vehicle hit by a rock in the West Bank on March 22, 2020 (IDF Spokepserson)

Other incidents of settler violence were reported on Monday and Tuesday targeting villagers from Al-Mughayyir and Umm Safa in the central West Bank and Ein al-Hilwe in the Jordan Valley.

The IDF has also reported an uptick in Palestinian stone throwing targeting Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads.

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

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