JERUSALEM (AP) — Jewish West Bank settlers stormed through a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said Thursday, throwing stones at Palestinian cars and using pepper spray on Israeli troops who were trying to disperse the settlers.
The settler rampage late Wednesday comes days after a similar incident in the same area and as Israeli-Palestinian tensions are surging over Israeli raids in the West Bank and an uptick in shooting attacks by Palestinians.
The rampage took place near Huwara, a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank near the city of Nablus, where a group of disaffected youth has taken up arms against Israel and in frustration with the Palestinian leadership’s close security ties to it.
Palestinian militants in the area have carried out several roadside shootings in recent weeks. The area is home to a number of hardline settlements, whose residents often intimidate Palestinians and vandalize their property.
Critics accuse Israel of turning a blind eye to settler violence against Palestinians and treating them with impunity, while being heavy-handed with Palestinian assailants or protesters. Settler violence has in the past also led to confrontations with soldiers which often sparks condemnations from politicians but rarely leads to a solution to the problem.
The military said dozens of settlers ran through the town, throwing rocks at Palestinian cars. The settlers used pepper spray on the battalion commander as well as another soldier. The settlers sprayed another two soldiers at a nearby checkpoint, the military said.
It was not immediately clear why the settlers were allowed to continue to another location after the initial incident.
In a statement, the military's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, condemned the violence.
“This is a very serious incident that embodies shameful and disgraceful criminal behavior that demands strict and swift justice,” he said.
The violence comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have surged in recent months.
More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2015.
The fighting has surged since a series of Palestinian attacks in the spring killed 19 people in Israel and more in recent violence. The Israeli military says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinian seek for their future state.
Israel has since settled some 500,000 settlers in the West Bank in some 130 settlements.
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