Israeli security chiefs brand settler attacks on Palestinians “nationalist terrorism”, vow crackdown
PHOTO CAPTION: A European diplomat checks a Palestinian house that was torched by Israeli settlers, during a visit to Turmus Ayya, near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 23, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
By Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta
JERUSALEM/UMM SAFA, West Bank (Reuters) -Israeli security chiefs on Saturday designated settler attacks on Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank as "nationalist terrorism" that merits stepped-up counter measures, and their remarks drew anger from far-right cabinet ministers.
A surge of violence over the past week in the West Bank included rampages by scores of Israeli settlers on Palestinian towns and villages that drew international condemnation and concern from the White House.
On Saturday, settlers torched at least two homes in the Palestinian village Umm Safa near Ramallah, residents said. Israel's military said at least oneIsraeli suspect had been arrested.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant condemned the attack.
In a joint statement, Israel's military, police and domestic security service chiefs said the settlers' actions amounted to "nationalist terrorism" which they pledged to fight.
The military will boost its forces in the area to prevent such violence, they said, and the Shin Bet domestic security service will enhance arrests, including "administrative detention" in which suspects can be held without charge.
That practice is largely used by Israel against Palestinian security suspects and is denounced by rights groups.
The statement drew sharp rebuke by two members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist-religious government.
"The attempt to equate murderous Arab terrorism with civilian counter actions, as serious as they are, is immoral and dangerous," said Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
He called on security forces to step up their efforts against Palestinian attacks and on settlers to refrain from "taking the law into their own hands."
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has past convictions for support for terrorism and incitement against Arabs, echoed Smotrich's remarks.
On Friday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan expressed concerns about settler attacks on Palestinian villages in a call with hisIsraeli counterpart, hours after Ben-Gvir called on settlers to expand their presence across the West Bank.
The settlers' assaults this week followed intense gun battles in Jenin that left seven Palestinians dead, a Palestinian shooting attack that killed fourIsraelis and a rare Israeli air strike in the area against militants.
Earlier on Saturday, a Palestinian militant opened fire at a West Bank Israeli checkpoint and wounded a security guard, Israel's police said. They added that the Palestinian gunman was then shot dead by forces at the scene.
The gunman was claimed by Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed group associated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.
U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, collapsed in 2014 and show no sign of revival.
Most countries deem the settlements Israel built on land it seized in the 1967 war as illegal, a view Israel disputes.
(Editing by Toby Chopra, Ros Russell, Alexander Smith and David Gregorio)