Middle East

Israeli military calls settler attacks on Palestinians ‘actions of terror’ after weekend of violence

By Hadas Gold, CNN

Jerusalem CNN  —  The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sees the previous day’s attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank as “actions of terror,” an IDF official said Monday, as tensions in the region simmered after a weekend of violence.

At least one Palestinian man was killed, a Palestinian fire engine was stoned by a crowd of about 50 settlers, and other Palestinians were injured with stones or metal bars, Palestinian medical officials said Sunday, blaming Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Violence continued into Monday, when a 27-year-old man, who has not yet been named publicly, was pronounced dead, according to a statement by Hadassah Mt. Scopus hospital.

He was shot in the West Bank on a highway between Jericho and the Dead Sea on Monday, according to Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency service.

The West Bank victim “was unconscious outside his car with gunshot wounds to his upper body,” when MDA paramedic Eden Cohen arrived to treat him, Cohen said in a statement released by the service.

The attacks followed the fatal shooting of two Israeli brothers earlier on Sunday in the town of Huwara, south of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, just days after a massive Israeli military raid into Nablus in search of wanted militants left at least 11 Palestinians dead.

“Last night there was revenge activity done by people that live in the area. I wanted to say we see these actions as actions of a terror, these violent riots,” the IDF official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation. “It’s been a horrible night,” the official added.

The official said the reason the IDF was sending three additional battalions to the area was to keep the Palestinians and Israelis apart.

“More forces will de-escalate” the situation, the official said. “This morning we’ve sent in another Givati (reconnaissance) battalion – the Givati Special Forces battalion – into the area in addition to two Border Patrol companies, basically trying to de-escalate and keep the two sides apart.”

Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant vowed to arrest the individual or individuals who killed the settlers and called for calm while allowing military and security forces to work and apprehend the perpetrators.

“It is neither legitimate nor possible to operate individually,” Gallant said Monday, while visiting the location where the incident took place. “We cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their hands. I call on everyone to follow law and order and to trust the IDF and security forces everywhere, across the country.”

The IDF detained eight people in connection with the attacks in Huwara, some of whom have since been released, Israel Police spokesman Dean Elsdunne told CNN Monday.

People attend the funeral of the brothers Hillel and Yagal Yaniv at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday.

Cycle of violence

Sameh Hamdallah Mahmoud Aqtash, 37, was shot in the abdomen and killed in the town of Za’tara, between Huwara and the Israeli settlement of Kfar Tapuach, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said Sunday night. In Huwara itself, at least one person was stabbed and another assaulted with an iron bar, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

The Israeli settlers who were killed earlier were named as brothers Hillel Menachem Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv, 19, according to the local settler council.

Video from the scene showed that their car had crossed a median, and hit a vehicle going the other direction, suggesting they were shot while driving.

Late Sunday, the IDF announced that the older brother, Hillel, was a serving soldier and expressed condolences in a statement.

A view over the town of Huwara on February 27.

Peace talks

Following rare talks on Sunday brokered by Jordan, Egypt and the United States, Israeli and Palestinian representatives “affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements between them, and to work towards a just and lasting peace.”

Israel and the Palestinian Authority confirmed their “joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months. This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months,” a joint statement read.

However, in response to the announcement of a halt on settlement construction, far-right Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich firmly rejected a pause, “even for one day.”

In a post on Twitter, the Israeli finance minister appeared out of alignment with his government, writing: “There will not be a freeze on settlement building and development, not even for one day (this is under my authority). The IDF will continue to act to counter terrorism in all areas of Judea and Samaria without any limitations (we will reaffirm this in the cabinet). It’s very simple.”

Israeli soldiers ride in a military vehicle in Huwara, near Nablus in the West Bank, on Monday.

Israeli cabinet approves bill allowing death penalty for ‘terrorists’

Also on Sunday, Israel’s cabinet approved a proposed law to impose the death penalty on “terrorists.” It is officially a private member’s bill sponsored by the far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, rather than government-backed legislation.

The law would give courts the power to “impose the death penalty on those who have committed the crime of murder on nationalistic grounds against the citizens of Israel,” a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ben Gvir said.

After a preliminary vote in the Knesset, or parliament, Israel’s political-security cabinet will next discuss the language in the bill, before it goes to the committee stage. If it passes the committee stage, it will require three Knesset readings to become law.

There have been previous attempts to introduce the death penalty in 2016 and 2018, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, but they did not become law.

In response to the moves, the Palestinian government on Monday condemned “in the strongest terms” the Israeli cabinet’s approval, according to a statement from the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The death penalty violates the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people to life, non-discrimination, and self-determination. It is a cruel, barbaric, and inhumane bill rooted in Jewish supremacy and precisely aimed to deny the Palestinian people their right to exist and their humanity,” it said, while also calling on the international community to take “concrete actions to pressure Israel to rescind its bill.”

CNN’s Amir Tal, Abeer Salman, Caroline Faraj, Hamdi Alkhshali, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Kareem El Damanhoury contributed to this report.

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