The United Nations’ special representative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harshly condemned Israel for settler violence in the flashpoint West Bank town of Huwara on Friday, amid a series of violent incidents in recent days, including a Palestinian terror shooting on Thursday.
Settlers rioted in the town after a Palestinian gunman opened fire on an Israeli family in a vehicle caught in traffic in the northern West Bank town, causing no injuries. During the riots, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces after hurling a large cinderblock at an Israeli-owned vehicle, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The attack, and response by the settlers, was the latest in a string of similar incidents this year in the town, which has long been a flashpoint. The West Bank’s main north-south artery, Route 60, runs through Huwara and is regularly used by Israelis traveling to and from settlements in the area.
A number of attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in Huwara have killed several Israelis, including two brothers in February and a father and son months later. on Friday night, Palestinians set an unmanned military post in Huwara alight, with no injuries reported.
“I condemn today’s attack by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property in the town of Huwwara in occupied West Bank,” said Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process in a statement Friday. “I’m outraged by the continued incitement, provocations, and lack of accountability for these violent crimes.”
“Israel must ensure that the civilian population is protected, and perpetrators are held to account,” Wennesland said in a statement that did not mention the terror shooting that preceded the riot.
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“I call on leaders to work now to reduce tensions, hold perpetrators accountable and stop this senseless cycle of violence,” Wennesland said.
The European Union delegation to the Palestinians also issues a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the violence on Friday.
“Accountability and protection of civilians should be ensured,” the statement said.
On Thursday evening, a Palestinian gunman approached an Israeli-owned vehicle in traffic in Huwara and opened fire from close range. The family, a man and woman aged 25 and a toddler, emerged unharmed from the incident.
The assailant was shot dead by Israeli troops hours after fleeing the scene of the attack.
Later Thursday night, dozens of settlers arrived in Huwara and marched in the city — some damaging Palestinian property, which led to clashes with locals, the military said.
The IDF 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.
Religious Zionism lawmaker Zvi Sukkot also 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.
On Friday, Sukkot accompanied party head and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on a tour of Huwara.
Smotrich, who 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.” Smotrich added that he believed Netanyahu agreed “with the necessary change in approach.”
The far-right minister 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.
Smotrich’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, most of them from the effects of tear gas.
After the funeral, Smotrich fired off a letter to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, claiming a military official had lied about the circumstances of the road closure.
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.
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.
In February, after two brothers were killed in a terror attack in Huwara, settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town, torching homes and cars, and killing sheep, in what was described as a “pogrom” that caught the military off-guard.
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.