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Smotrich urges closing Huwara’s Palestinian shops until bypass road built for settlers

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Friday toured Huwara, following clashes there between settlers and Palestinians after a gunman opened fire on an Israeli family that was driving through the northern West Bank town.

The shooting in Huwara, which resulted in no injuries, was the latest attack in the flashpoint Palestinian town, which has long been a flashpoint. The West Bank’s main north-south artery, Route 6, runs through Huwara and is regularly used  by Israelis traveling to and from settlements in the area. The assailant was shot dead by troops hours later after fleeing the scene on Thursday.

Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism party and is also a minister in the Defense Ministry with broad authority over civilian affairs in the West Bank, charged that Iran was behind the recent series of attacks while swiping at top security officials over their response to the violence.

“The Israeli security establishment must internalize and act in accordance with the characteristics of this [terror] wave,” he said in a statement.

Smotrich said he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, telling him “things cannot continue like this.” The ultranationalist leader added that he believed Netanyahu agreed “with the necessary change in approach.”

“We will not be silent until — with the help of God — we restore security and calm to all Israeli citizens,” he said.

Smotrich also called on Netanyahu to order that Palestinian stores in Huwara remain closed until work on a bypass road for settlers that has dragged on for years is completed.

Dashcam footage shows a gunman shooting at an Israeli-owned vehicle with a family inside, in the West Bank town of Huwara, October 5, 2023. (Screenshot)

The minister was accompanied by Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot Samaria Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, and other settler leaders.

The Religious Zionim head’s trip to Huwara came as the Israel Defense Forces again briefly closed Route 60 during the funeral for a Palestinian who the military said was shot by troops after hurling a large cinderblock on an Israeli-owned vehicle.

Images from Huwara showed Palestinians setting alight tires and other objects, with the Red Crescent reporting 51 hurt in clashes with Israeli troops after the funeral for 19-year-old Labib Muhammad Labib Dhamidi, 19, most of them from tear gas.

Smoke billows from burning tires as Palestinians clash with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023, following a funeral for a Palestinian man who the military says soldier shot for throwing a cinderblock at an Israeli-driven vehicle. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Following Thursday’s shooting attack, Netanyahu called for top defense officials to step up anti-terror efforts in the West Bank and to accelerate the construction of the bypass road, as demanded by settler officials who accuse his hardline coalition of failing to rein in terror.

Hours after the attack, Religious Zionism’s Sukkot set up a sukkah on Huwara’s main highway, requiring an additional company of soldiers to be dispatched to the town in order to secure the presence of dozens of ultranationalist settlers who joined the lawmaker, Haaretz reported.

Dozens of settlers protesting the shooting marched through Huwara — some damaging Palestinian property, which led to clashes with locals, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the groups threw rocks at each other, leading to some light injuries as well as some damage to vehicles. Three Israelis were lightly injured in the clashes, the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service said.

The settlers eventually left the town following the clashes. There were no reports of arrests made, as is largely the case in incidents of settler violence.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank since the beginning of the year have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and several others seriously wounded.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 194 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians have been killed during the same period — the majority during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed in unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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