Advertisement

EU diplomat demands accountability after Israeli settler rampage in West Bank

By Raneen Sawafta

HUWARA, West Bank (Reuters) -The European Union's envoy to the Palestinians called on Friday for accountability and for perpetrators to be brought to justice after a rampage by Israeli settlers this week in the occupied West Bank in which one Palestinian was killed and dozens of houses, shops and cars were torched.

Ambassador Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, heading one of the biggest EU delegations to visit the West Bank, said officials wanted to see with their own eyes the damage left by Sunday's violence in and around the Palestinian village of Huwara. The rampage followed a Palestinian gun attack that killed two Israeli brothers.

"It is absolutely necessary for us that accountability is fully ensured, that the perpetrators be brought to justice, that those who lost property be compensated," Kuhn von Burgsdorff said.

Local media reported that, in a rare move, Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday signed administrative detention orders for two suspects, after a Jerusalem court ordered police to release all seven people detained in connection with the rampage.

Amnesty International condemned the release of the suspects in a statement and condemned use of administrative detention, saying it violated international law.

Israeli rights group Yesh Din found that 93% of investigations into settler attacks in the West Bank between 2005 and 2022 were closed without indictment.

On Tuesday, Israeli Major General Yehuda Fuchs, who commands the Israeli military in the area, said his forces had prepared for attempted settler retribution over the gun attack but had been surprised by the intensity of the violence by dozens of people. He called it a "pogrom carried out by outlaws".

Violence in the West Bank has surged over the past year with stepped-up Israeli military raids following a spate of Palestinian attacks. The United States, Jordan and Egypt have appealed for calm ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival in late March and early April.

WASHINGTON'S CALL TO NETANYAHU

The United States has demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disavow a call on Wednesday by far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for the village of Huwara to be erased. The U.N. Human Rights chief Volker Turk also criticised Smotrich's remarks as "an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility".

On the night of the rampage, Netanyahu urged people not to take the law into their own hands, but he has not publicly addressed Smotrich's statement or responded to the unusual criticism by Washington, a close ally.

Late on Thursday, Palestinian officials said Israeli forces shot dead 15-year-old Mohammad Nidal Saleem in the back in the West Bank town of Azzoun.

Ahmad Enaya, the town's mayor, said an Israeli military vehicle drove into town and when teens hurled rocks at the car, soldiers responded with live fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that soldiers shot at suspects who had hurled explosives at forces while they were conducting a search in the area for people who launched fireworks at Israeli vehicles passing near Azzoun.

It said it was aware of reports of people being wounded but did not confirm any Palestinian fatalities.

A statement by the public hospital in Qalqilya, near Azzoun, said two other people were treated for gunshot wounds.

"The terrorism waged by settlers, in cooperation with the occupation government, is unprecedented," said Walid Assaf, a former Palestinian Authority official who monitored Israeli settlements, speaking at Saleem's funeral in Azzoun on Friday.

At least 62 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed since the start of 2023, the Palestinian health ministry said. Thirteen Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist died in Palestinian attacks in the same period, according to official Israeli figures.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war.

"We Palestinians will remain steadfast and we will defend our existence in the face of this occupation," said Assaf.

(Reporting by Raneen Sawafta in Huwara, Mohammad Torokman in Azzoun and Ali Sawafta in RamallahAdditional reporting by Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem and Emma Farge in Geneva Editing by James Mackenzie, Matthew Lewis, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)