Palestinians count cost of Israeli reprisals in West Bank

HUWARA (AFP): Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Monday counted the cost of deadly violence and arson by Israeli settlers targeting a town where two Israeli brothers were killed.

Dozens of Israeli settlers set homes and cars ablaze in the northern town of Huwara overnight, after a day of Israeli-Palestinian talks in neighboring Jordan aimed at quelling a surge in violence in the Palestinian territory.

More than 350 Palestinians were injured, the majority suffering from tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

The Palestinian health ministry said 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash was shot dead during an attack on the nearby village of Zaatara.

The violence came hours after two Israeli settlers — brothers Yagel Yaniv, 20, and Hallel Yaniv, 22 — were shot dead Sunday as they drove through Huwara.

On Monday, an AFP photographer saw damaged homes blackened by fire, long lines of charred cars, burned trees and smashed windows in the town.

“They burned more than 20 buildings,” Huwara resident Kamal Odeh told AFP.

“Even the trees were not spared. They burned everything. They burned everything they found.”

Wajeh Odeh, a member of the town’s municipality, said 30 houses were burned and damaged while more than 100 cars were torched.

On Monday morning, the Israeli military told AFP no-one had been arrested over the arson or killing of Aqtash.

The search for the gunmen who fired on the two brothers is ongoing.

The violence came days after Israeli forces launched their deadliest West Bank raid in nearly 20 years, which claimed the lives of 11 Palestinians in the nearby city of Nablus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday called for calm.

“I ask — even when the blood is boiling — not to take the law into one’s hands,” Netanyahu said.

The West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians as well as an estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers, who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.

Mayors of Israeli settlements called on their residents to let the Israeli army do its job.

“We do not take justice into our own hands,” they said in a statement, while calling on the authorities to carry out “a determined and deterrent military operation.”

The Israeli military said it had evacuated dozens of Palestinians from their homes threatened by fires in Huwara.

The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of “protecting terrorist acts perpetrated by settlers” in the West Bank.

Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, called on Palestinians “to defend the city of Nablus and repel the settlers’ terrorism.”

Washington condemned the violence on both sides.

“The terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price wrote on Twitter.

The attacks in Huwara came amid talks in Jordan, where Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to work to prevent further violence.

In a statement, both sides reaffirmed “the need to commit to de-escalation on the ground and to prevent further violence.”

Since the start of this year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of 63 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.

Eleven Israeli civilians, including three children, a police officer and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

The violence follows the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since at least 2005.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.