‘They burned everything’: Israeli settlers torch Palestinian homes, cars after West Bank attack

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Monday counted the cost of deadly violence and arson by Israeli settlers targeting a town where two Israeli brothers were killed.

Dozens of Israeli settlers set homes and cars ablaze in the northern town of Huwara overnight, after a day of Israeli-Palestinian talks in neighbouring Jordan aimed at quelling a surge in violence in the Palestinian territory.

More than 350 Palestinians were injured, most suffering from tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

The Palestinian health ministry said Sameh Aqtash, 37, was shot dead during an attack by Israeli forces and settlers on the nearby village of Zaatara.

The violence came hours after two Israeli settlers – brothers Yagel Yaniv, 20, and Hallel Yaniv, 22 – were shot dead Sunday as they drove through Huwara.

On Monday, an AFP photographer saw damaged homes blackened by fire, long lines of charred cars, burned trees and smashed windows in the town.

“They burned the cars and the houses and destroyed everything,” Huwara resident Diaa Odeh said.

“Whenever we started to push the settlers back, the army was firing tear gas at us,” added the 25-year-old.

Wajeh Odeh, a member of the town’s municipality, said 30 houses were burned and damaged while more than 100 cars were torched.

Abdel Moneim Aqtash said he and his brother were standing outside a blacksmith’s workshop when they were attacked by Israeli settlers.

“They left the area and then came back with the occupation (Israeli) army… The army shot my brother, not the settlers,” he told AFP.

The military told AFP that Aqtash “was not shot by an Israeli soldier”.

‘We want security’

Yoav Gallant, defence minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition government, said he expected “difficult days ahead” and had ordered troops to be reinforced.

“With this being said, I call on everyone to restore calm… We cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their (own) hands,” he said.

The Israeli military told AFP no-one had been arrested over the arson or killing of Aqtash.

The search for the gunmen who fired on the two brothers was ongoing.

The violence came days after Israeli forces launched their deadliest West Bank raid in nearly 20 years, which claimed the lives of 11 Palestinians in the nearby city of Nablus.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister and an extreme-right settler, said the killing of the Yaniv brothers “must teach us that we are at war”.

“I understand the pain but we must not take the law into our own hands,” he said.

The West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians as well as an estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers, who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.

Esty Yaniv, the mother of the two brothers killed, said “instead of accompanying them to their wedding, we must bury them.”

“We love this country, we love the army, we want security, but the responsibility to guarantee security rests solely with the army,” she said Monday, in a statement from the Shomron Regional Council which administers settlements in the area.

The Israeli military said it had evacuated dozens of Palestinians from their homes threatened by fires in Huwara.

‘A pogrom’

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ office accused Israel of “protecting terrorist acts perpetrated by settlers” in the West Bank.

Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, called on Palestinians “to defend the city of Nablus and repel the settlers’ terrorism”.

Israeli rights groups BTselem and Peace Now said the Huwara attack amounted to “a pogrom”.

The violence on Sunday came amid talks in Jordan, where Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to work to prevent further violence.

In a statement, both sides reaffirmed “the need to commit to de-escalation on the ground and to prevent further violence”.

On Monday, Germany said it was “urgent that agreements to de-escalate the situation are respected”, while France warned there was a risk the situation could spin “out of control”.

Since the start of this year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of 63 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.

Eleven Israeli civilians, including three children, a police officer and one Ukrainian civilian, have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

The violence follows the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since at least 2005.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.