Jewish settlers rampage in West Bank
By Imad Saada – 3 hours ago
NABLUS, West Bank (AFP) — Jewish settlers rampaged in the West Bank on Monday, wounding four Palestinians, as they vented fury that Israel may answer US calls and dismantle outposts in the territory, officials said.
Jewish extremists blocked roads, hurled rocks at drivers, burned fields, cut down olive trees and opened fire towards Palestinians who tried to chase the trespassers from their fields in the northern West Bank, witnesses said.
West of the city of Nablus, an area home to some of the most hardline settlers in the occupied territory, dozens of masked extremists blocked a road in the early hours and hurled rocks at Palestinian drivers who stopped their vehicles to move the obstructions, they said.
"They attacked when the minibus (carrying 17 Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel) stopped. The man next to the driver was seriously wounded," said Zakaria Sada, an activist with the Rabbis for Human Rights organisation.
When another driver stopped his vehicle to move the stones in the road, the mob beat him until Israeli troops arrived on the scene, Sada said.
Four people were wounded in the attacks, and one remained in serious condition in hospital with a fractured skull, medics said.
Near the settlement of Yizhar -- one of the most radical in the West Bank -- heavy smoke billowed into the air as settlers set fire to Palestinian fields.
When a group of Palestinians threw stones trying to chase them off the land, about 20 settlers armed with guns jumped out from hiding places and opened fire in the direction of the Palestinians and journalists, an AFP correspondent said.
Three army patrol vehicles at a nearby junction stood by and did not intervene to stop the violence, but prevented a Palestinian fire-engine from reaching the field.
The police and army had no immediate comment.
"These sorts of rock hurling incidents are unfortunately very common in the West Bank," one army spokesman said as he tried to search for information on the incidents.
Angry mobs of settlers also set fire to fields, sawed down olive trees and threw rocks at Palestinians outside the villages of Burin and Far'ata south of Nablus.
"It took us six months to plant everything, this is our whole life," Shaher Tawil said, as his fields of wheat and olive trees burned on the outskirts of Far-ata.
Asked to comment on the violence, the president of a settler umbrella organisation in the northern West Bank, Gershon Messika, said: "It's natural that people who face expulsion from their house do what they can to avoid being expelled."
Groups of settlers converged on the area overnight after rumours spread that Israeli security forces were moving in to evacuate settlement outposts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to dismantle several dozen wildcat outposts -- settlements that were erected in the West Bank without government approval -- in response to demands from Washington, which has called to a halt to all Israeli settlement activity.
"Our intention is to dismantle the unlawful outposts," Netanyahu told a parliamentary committee on Monday, while pledging to continue construction in other settlements to accommodate population growth.
In the past few weeks Israeli police have taken down some tents and tin huts in the occupied territory, though the structures usually reappear within hours after troops leave.
On Monday police and army removed several shacks containing farming equipment outside the settlement of Elon Moreh northeast of Nablus. New shacks arose on the site within a few hours, local settlers said.
Hardline settlers believe the Jewish people have a God-given, biblical-era right to live on the land, though most of the more than 280,000 Israelis who live in the settlements dotting the West Bank are there for economic reasons.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Arab land illegal, but Israel makes a distinction between those built with or without government approval.