Hundreds of Israeli settlers on Wednesday stormed into a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, setting fire to dozens of cars and homes to avenge the deaths of four Israelis killed by Palestinian gunmen the previous day, residents said.
The settler attack came as the Israeli military deployed additional forces across the occupied West Bank, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1,000 new settler homes in response to the deadly shooting.
The moves threatened to further raise tensions after day days of deadly fighting in the West Bank.
Residents in Turmus Ayya said some 400 settlers marched down the town’s main road, setting fire to cars, homes and trees.
Mayor Lafi Adeeb said some 30 houses and 60 cars were partly or totally burned.
“The attacks intensified in the past hour even after the army came,” he said. At least eight Palestinians were hurt during the ensuing clashes, which the army tried to disperse by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. By the midafternoon, he said the situation was calming down.
The settler attack brought back memories of a settler rampage last February in which dozens of cars and homes were torched in the town of Hawara following the killing of a pair of Israeli brothers by a Palestinian gunman.
Tuesday’s shooting in the settlement of Eli came a day after seven Palestinians were killed in a daylong battle against Israeli troops in the militant stronghold of Jenin. The worsening violence has created a test for Israel’s government and prompted calls for a widespread military operation in the West Bank.
As Israel deployed more forces to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had approved plans to build 1,000 new homes in Eli.
“Our answer to terror is to strike it hard and to build our country,” Netanyahu said.
The international community opposes settlements on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians for a future independent state. Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
Israeli media identified the four killed in the shooting as Harel Masood, 21, Ofer Fayerman, 64, and Elisha Anteman, 18, Nahman-Shmuel Mordoff, 17. An Israeli civilian killed one assailant at the scene, while Israeli troops chased and killed the second shooter after he fled.
The army said it was beefing up its troop presence in the West Bank. On Wednesday morning, it said troops arrested three suspects in the Palestinian village of Urif in connection to the attack and mapped out the homes of the two gunmen ahead of their likely demolition.
Israel demolishes the homes of Palestinian attackers as part of a policy it says aims to deter others, but critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment.
Hamas did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, although it identified the two gunmen — Mohannad Faleh, 26, who was killed by a civilian at the scene and Khaled Sabah, 24, who was killed by the army as he fled — as its members.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian property in adjacent villages, causing extensive property damage. At least five Palestinians were wounded in attacks by Israeli settlers, Israel’s army radio reported.
Tuesday’s shooting followed a massive gunbattle between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops in the northern Jenin refugee camp a day earlier. Seven Palestinians were killed and more than 90 others were wounded in that clash. On Wednesday, the death toll from the raid rose to seven when 15-year-old Sadeel Naghniyeh succumbed to wounds sustained in the gunbattle, Palestinian health officials said.
Eight Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the shootout.
Tuesday’s deadly shooting was the latest in a long string of violence in the region over the past year and half that shows no sign of relenting. At least 130 Palestinians and 24 people on the Israeli side have been killed so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Israel has been staging near-nightly raids in the West Bank in response to a string of deadly Palestinian attacks targeting Israeli civilians early in 2022. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.