With West Bank in turmoil, more Palestinians want to fight
The stuttering blasts of M-16s shattered the quiet in a West Bank village, surrounded by barley fields and olive groves. Young Palestinian men in Jaba once wanted to farm, residents say, but now, more and more want to fight. Last week, dozens of them, wearing balaclavas and brandishing rifles with photos of their dead comrades plastered on the clips, burst into a school playground — showcasing Jaba’s new militant group and paying tribute to its founder and another gunman who were killed in an Israeli military raid last month. “I’d hate to make my parents cry,” said 28-year-old Yousef Hosni Hammour, a close friend of Ezzeddin Hamamrah, the group’s late founder. “But I’m ready to die a martyr.” Similar scenes are playing out across the West Bank. From the northern Jenin refugee camp to the southern city of Hebron, small groups of disillusioned young Palestinians are taking up guns against Israel’s open-ended occupation, defying Palestinian political leaders whom they scorn as collaborators with Israel. With fluid and overlapping affiliations, these groups have no clear ideology and operate independently of traditional chains of command — even if they receive support from established groups. Fighters from Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other organizations attended last week’s ceremony in Jaba. In near-daily arrest raids over the past year, Israel has sought to crush the fledgling militias, leading to a surge of deaths and unrest unseen in nearly two decades. While Israel maintains the escalated raids are meant to prevent future attacks, Palestinians say the intensified violence has helped radicalize men too young to remember the brutal Israeli crackdown on the second Palestinian uprising two decades ago, which served as a deterrent to older Palestinians. This new generation has grown up uniquely stymied, in a territory riven by infighting and fragmented by barriers and checkpoints. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the start of 2023, after Israel’s most right-wing government in history took office. About half were killed in fighting with Israel, according to an Associated Press tally, though the dead have also included stone-throwers and bystanders uninvolved in violence. At least 15 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks in that time, including two Israelis shot Sunday in the town of Hawara, just south of Jaba. In response, Israeli settlers torched dozens of buildings — a rampage that also left one Palestinian dead. “It’s like the new government released the hands of soldiers and settlers, said now they can do whatever they want,” said Jamal Khalili, a member of Jaba’s local council. At the recent memorial service, children with black bands on their foreheads gathered around the gunmen, eager for a glimpse of their heroes. “The outcome is what you see here,” Khalili added. Last week, an Israeli military raid in the northern city of Nablus sparked a shootout with Palestinians that killed 10 people. The raid targeted the most prominent of the emerging armed groups, the Lion’s Den. Israeli security officials claim the military has crippled the Nablus-based Lion’s Den over the past few months, killing or arresting most of its key members. But they acknowledge its gunmen, who roam the Old City of Nablus and pump out slick Telegram videos with a carefully honed message of heroic resistance, now inspire new attacks across the territory. “The Lion’s Den is beginning to become an idea that we see all around,” said an Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment. Instead of hurling stones or firebombs, the Palestinians now mainly open fire, he said, using M-16s often smuggled from Jordan or stolen from Israeli military bases. The official said the army was monitoring the Jaba group and others in the northern cities of Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem. But he acknowledged the army has difficulty gathering intelligence on the small, loosely organized groups. The Palestinian self-rule government administers parts of the West Bank, and works closely with the Israeli military against its domestic rivals, particularly the Hamas group, which runs the Gaza Strip. With young Palestinians increasingly viewing the Palestinian Authority as an arm of the Israeli security forces rather than the foundation for a future state, Palestinian security forces are loathe to intervene against the budding men. Palestinian forces now rarely venture into strongholds like the Old City of Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp, according to residents and the Israeli military. Jaba men said the Palestinian security forces have not cracked down on them. Residents said the group, founded last September, has rapidly grown to some 40-to-50 men. Hammour described Palestinian leaders as corrupt and out of touch with regular Palestinians. But, he said, “Our goals are much bigger than creating problems with the Palestinian Authority.” With the popularity of the PA plummeting, experts say it cannot risk inflaming tensions by arresting widely admired fighters. The PA “is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy,” said Tahani Mustafa, Palestinian analyst at the International Crisis Group. “There’s a huge disconnect between elites at the top and the groups on the ground.” Palestinian officials acknowledge their grip is slipping. “We fear any of our actions against (these groups) will create a reaction in the street,” said a Palestinian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. With the Israeli military stepping up raids, the West Bank’s power structure faltering and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government expanding settlements on occupied land, frustrated Palestinians say they are not in pursuit of any Islamist or political agenda — they simply want to defend their towns and resist Israel’s 55-year-old occupation. For 28-year-old Mohammed Alawneh, whose two brothers were killed in confrontations with Israeli forces, two decades apart, the Jaba group is a “reaction.” He said he could support peace if it meant the end of the occupation and the formation of a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. For now, he said, it’s clear Israel doesn’t want peace. Hamamrah, the Jaba group’s late commander, threw stones at the Israeli army as a teen and later joined an armed offshoot of Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his mother, Lamia. After 10 agonizing months in Israeli prison, he became religious and withdrawn. He spoke of taking revenge. After his death, Lamia discovered he had helped form the Jaba group and that Islamic Jihad had supplied them with weapons, including the gun Hamamrah fired at Israeli troops on Jan. 14. The army chased him into Jaba, killing Hamamrah along with another gunman, Amjad Khleleyah. Their crushed and bloodstained car now sits in the center of Jaba like a macabre monument. At his funeral, Lamia said Hamamrah’s friends urged her to show pride in a son who became a fighter and inspired the whole village. But Lamia wept and wept. Her 14-year-old daughter, Malak, now wants die a martyr, too. “I’m just a mother who lost her son,” she said. “I want this all to stop.”
Israeli settlers rampage after Palestinian gunman kills 2
Scores of Israeli settlers went on a violent rampage in the northern West Bank late Sunday, setting dozens of cars and homes on fire after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Palestinian medics said one man was killed and four others were badly wounded in what appeared to be the worst outburst of settler violence in decades. The deadly shooting, followed by the late-night rampage, immediately raised doubts about Jordan’s declaration that Israeli and Palestinian officials had pledged to calm a year-long wave of violence. Palestinian media said some 30 homes and cars were torched. Photos and video on social media showed large fires burning throughout the town of Hawara — scene of the deadly shooting earlier in the day — and lighting up the sky. In one video, a crowd of Jewish settlers stood in prayer as they stared at a building in flames. And earlier, a prominent Israeli Cabinet minister and settler leader had called for Israel to strike “without mercy.” Late Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said a 37-year-old man was shot and killed by Israeli fire. The Palestinian Red Crescent medical service said two other people were shot and wounded, a third person was stabbed and a fourth was beaten with an iron bar. Some 95 others were being treated for tear gas inhalation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces tonight.” “We hold the Israeli government fully responsible,” he added. The European Union said it was “alarmed by today’s violence” in Huwara, and said “authorities on all sides must intervene now to stop this endless cycle of violence.” The U.K.’s ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, said that “Israel should tackle settler violence, with those responsible brought to justice.” As videos of the violence appeared on evening news shows, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for calm and urged against vigilante violence. “I ask that when blood is boiling and the spirit is hot, don’t take the law into your hands,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. The Israeli military said its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi, rushed to scene. It said troops were being reinforced in the area as they worked to restore order and search for the shooter. Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the Nablus region. said that settlers burned at least six houses and dozens of cars in Hawara, and reported attacks on other neighboring Palestinian villages. He estimated around 400 Jewish settlers took part in the attack. “I never seen such an attack,” he said. The rampage occurred shortly after the Jordanian government, which hosted Sunday’s talks at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, said the sides had agreed to take steps to de-escalate tensions and would meet again next month ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “They reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground and to prevent further violence,” the Jordanian Foreign Ministry announced. After nearly a year of fighting that has killed over 200 Palestinians and more than 40 Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Jordanian announcement marked a small sign of progress. But the situation on the ground immediately cast those commitments into doubt. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – for a future state. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements as illegal and obstacles to peace. The West Bank is home to a number of hard-line settlements whose residents frequently vandalize Palestinians land and property. But rarely is the violence so widespread. Prominent members of Israel’s far-right government called for tough action against the Palestinians. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader who lives in the area and has been put in charge of much of Israel’s West Bank policy, called for “striking the cities of terror and its instigators without mercy, with tanks and helicopters.” Using a phrase that calls for a more heavy-handed response, he said Israel should act “in a way that conveys that the master of the house has gone crazy.” Late Sunday, however, Smotrich appealed to his fellow settlers to let the army and government do their jobs. “It is forbidden to take the law into your hands and create dangerous anarchy that could spin out of control and cost lives,” he said. Earlier, in Israeli ministerial committee gave initial approval to a bill that would impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted in deadly attacks. The measure was sent to lawmakers for further debate. There were also differing interpretations of what exactly was agreed to in Aqaba between the Palestinians and Israelis. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said the representatives agreed to work toward a “just and lasting peace” and had committed to preserving the status quo at Jerusalem’s contested holy site. Tensions at the site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif have often spilled over into violence, and two years ago sparked an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas militant group during Ramadan. Officials with Israel’s government, the most right-wing in Israeli history, played down Sunday’s meeting. A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity under government guidelines, said only that the sides in Jordan agreed to set up a committee to work at renewing security ties with the Palestinians. The Palestinians cut off ties last month after a deadly Israeli military raid in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, who led the Israeli delegation said there were “no changes” in Israeli policies and that plans to build thousands of new settlement homes approved last week would not be affected. He said “there is no settlement freeze” and “there is no restriction on army activity.” The Jordanian announcement had said Israel pledged not to legalize any more outposts for six months or to approve any new construction in existing settlements for four months. The Palestinians, meanwhile, said they had presented a long list of grievances, including an end to Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands and a halt to Israeli military raids on Palestinian towns. Sunday’s shooting in Hawara came days after an Israeli military raid killed 10 Palestinians in the nearby city of Nablus. The shooting occurred on a major highway that serves both Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The two men who were killed were identified as brothers, ages 21 and 19, from the Jewish settlement of Har Bracha. Hanegbi was joined by the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency who attended the talks in neighboring Jordan. The head of the Palestinian intelligence services as well as advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas also joined. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who has close ties with the Palestinians, led the discussions, while Egypt, another mediator, and the United States also participated. In Washington, the U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, welcomed the meeting. “We recognize that this meeting was a starting point,” he said, adding that implementation will be critical.” It was a rare high-level meeting between the sides, illustrating the severity of the crisis and the concerns of increased violence as Ramadan approaches in late March. In Gaza, Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, criticized Sunday’s meeting and called the shooting a “natural reaction” to Israeli incursions in the West Bank. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Hamas militant group subsequently took control of the territory, and Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade over the territory.
Israel steps up Jerusalem home demolitions as violence rises
Ratib Matar’s family was growing. They needed more space. Before his granddaughters, now 4 and 5, were born, he built three apartments on an eastern slope overlooking Jerusalem’s ancient landscape. The 50-year-old construction contractor moved in with his brother, son, divorced daughter and their young kids — 11 people in all, plus a few geese. But Matar was never at ease. At any moment, the Israeli code-enforcement officers could knock on his door and take everything away. That moment came on Jan. 29, days after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people in east Jerusalem, the deadliest attack in the contested capital since 2008. Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called not only for the sealing of the assailant's family home, but also the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in east Jerusalem, among other punitive steps. Mere hours after Ben-Gvir's comments, the first bulldozers rumbled into Matar's neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber. For many Palestinians, the gathering pace of home demolitions is part of the new ultranationalist government's broader battle for control of east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future independent state. The battle is waged with building permits and demolition orders — and it is one the Palestinians feel they cannot win. Israel says it is simply enforcing building regulations. “Our construction is under siege from Israel,” Matar said. His brothers and sons lingered beside the ruins of their home, drinking bitter coffee and receiving visitors as though in mourning. “We try really hard to build, but in vain," he said. Last month, Israel demolished 39 Palestinian homes, structures and businesses in east Jerusalem, displacing over 50 people, according to the United Nations. That was more than a quarter of the total number of demolitions in 2022. Ben-Gvir posted a photo on Twitter of the bulldozers clawing at Matar's home. “We will fight terrorism with all the means at our disposal,” he wrote, though Matar's home had nothing to do with the Palestinian shooting attacks. Most Palestinian apartments in east Jerusalem were built without hard-to-get permits. A 2017 study by the U.N. described it as “virtually impossible" to secure them. The Israeli municipality allocates scant land for Palestinian development, the report said, while facilitating the expansion of Israeli settlements. Little Palestinian property was registered before Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, a move not internationally recognized. Matar said the city rejected his building permit application twice because his area is not zoned for residential development. He's now trying a third time. The penalty for unauthorized building is often demolition. If families don't tear their houses down themselves, the government charges them for the job. Matar is dreading his bill — he knows neighbors who paid over $20,000 to have their houses razed. Now homeless, Matar and his family are staying with relatives. He vows to build again on land he inherited from his grandparents, though he has no faith in the Israeli legal system. “They don't want a single Palestinian in all of Jerusalem,” Matar said. Uphill, in the heart of his neighborhood, Israeli flags fluttered from dozens of apartments recently built for religious Jews. Since 1967, the government has built 58,000 homes for Israelis in the eastern part of the city, and fewer than 600 for Palestinians, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specializing in the geopolitics of Jerusalem, citing the government’s statistics bureau and his own analysis. In that time, the city’s Palestinian population has soared by 400%. “The planning regime is dictated by the calculus of national struggle,” Seidemann said. Israel's city plans show state parks encircling the Old City, with some 60% of Jabal Mukaber zoned as green space, off-limits to Palestinian development. At least 20,000 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem are now slated for demolition, watchdogs say. Matar and his neighbors face an agonizing choice: Build illegally and live under constant threat of demolition, or leave their birthplace for the occupied West Bank, sacrificing Jerusalem residency rights that allow them to work and travel relatively freely throughout Israel. While there are no reliable figures for permit approvals, the Israeli municipality set aside just over 7% of its 21,000 housing plans for Palestinian homes in 2019, reported Ir Amim, an anti-settlement advocacy group. Palestinians are nearly 40% of the city's roughly 1 million people. “This is the purpose of this policy,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim. “Palestinians are forced to leave Jerusalem." Arieh King, a Jerusalem deputy mayor and settler leader, acknowledged that demolitions help Israel entrench control over east Jerusalem, home to the city's most important religious sites. “It’s part of enforcing sovereignty," King said. “I'm happy that at last we have a minister that understands," he added, referring to Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir is now pushing for the destruction of an apartment tower housing 100 people. Trying to lower tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the eviction that was planned for Tuesday, Israeli media reported. King contended it was possible for Palestinians to secure permits and accused them of building without authorization to avoid an expensive bureaucracy. When the al-Abasi family in east Jerusalem found a demolition order plastered on their new breeze-block home last month, they contemplated their options. The government had knocked down their last apartment, built on the same lot, eight years ago. This time, Jaafar al-Abasi decided, he would tear it down himself. Al-Abasi hired a tractor and invited his relatives and neighbors to join. The destruction took three days, with breaks for hummus and soda. His three sons borrowed pickaxes and jackhammers, angrily hacking away at the walls they had decorated with colored plates just last month. “This place is like a ticking time bomb,” said his brother in law, 48-year-old Mustafa Samhouri, who helped them out. Protests over the demolitions have roiled east Jerusalem in recent days. Two weekends ago, Samhouri said, the family's 13-year-old cousin opened fire at Jewish settlers in the neighborhood of Silwan just across the valley, wounding two people before being shot and arrested. “The pressure just grows more and more,” Samhouri said. “And at last, boom." ___ Associated Press writer Sam McNeil contributed to this report.
Palestinian teen wounds 2, day after 7 killed in Jerusalem
A 13-year-old Palestinian opened fire in east Jerusalem on Saturday, wounding two Israelis, officials said, a day after another attacker killed seven outside a synagogue in the deadliest attack in the city since 2008. The shooting in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, near the historic Old City, wounded a father and son, ages 47 and 23, paramedics said. Both were fully conscious and in moderate to serious condition in the hospital, the medics added. As police rushed to the scene, two passers-by with licensed weapons shot and overpowered the 13-year-old attacker, police said. Police confiscated his handgun and took the wounded teen to a hospital. Video showed police escorting a wounded teen, wearing nothing but underwear, away from the scene and onto a stretcher, his hands cuffed behind his back. Authorities taped off the street, emergency vehicles and security forces swarmed the area and helicopters whirled overhead. “He waited to ambush civilians on the holy Sabbath day,” Israeli police spokesman Dean Elsdunne told The Associated Press, adding that the teenager opened fire on a group of five civilians. Security footage showed the victims to be observant Jews, wearing skullcaps and tzitzit, or knotted ritual tassels. Saturday’s events — on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s arrival in the region — raised the possibility of even greater conflagration in one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied West Bank in several years. On Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, in a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not internationally recognized. The attacks pose pivotal test for Israel’s new far-right government. Its firebrand minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has presented himself as an enforcer of law and order and grabbed headlines for his promises to take even stronger action against the Palestinians. Speaking to reporters at a hospital where victims were being treated, Ben-Gvir said he wants homes of Palestinian attackers sealed off immediately as a punitive measure, lashing out at Israel’s attorney general for delaying his order. She “is not allowing us to seal the house. In my opinion this is awful. In my opinion, it can’t be like that,” he said of the top prosecutor. He also called for demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes that Israel says were illegally built in east Jerusalem, granting more gun licenses to Israelis, and applying the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis. Read more: Palestinian gunman kills seven people in Jerusalem synagogue Overhauling the justice system in the country, including the attorney general’s, has been on the top agenda of the new government, which says judges have overwhelming powers. The divisive issue helped fuel weekly protests by Israelis who say the sweeping proposed changes would weaken the Supreme Court and undermine democracy. The Israeli army said it had deployed another battalion to the West Bank on Saturday, adding hundreds more troops to a presence already on heightened alert in the occupied territory. In the Jenin refugee camp, the site of a deadly Israeli military raid on Thursday that fueled the latest escalation, footage showed Palestinians dancing and cheering in celebration of the shooting on Saturday. Palestinian detainees who celebrated in prison after Friday’s attack were placed in solitary confinement, the Israeli prison service said. Prime Minister Netanyahu said he would convene his Security Cabinet later, after the Sabbath, which ends at sundown, to discuss a further response to the attack near the synagogue. Security forces launched a crackdown in east Jerusalem, fanning out into the neighborhood of the 21-year-old Palestinian gunman, who was shot and killed at the scene. Police arrested 42 of his family members and neighbors for questioning in the At-Tur neighborhood. The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, upheld its decision to halt security coordination with Israel that was taken Thursday following the deadly raid in Jenin. After a meeting headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority called on international community and the U.S. administration to oblige Israel into stopping its raids and operations in the West Bank. Police Chief Kobi Shabtai permanently moved a force, similar to a S.W.A.T. team, in the city and beefed up forces, instructing police to work 12-hour shifts. He urged the public to call a hotline if they see anything suspicious. The earlier Friday attack came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians in the flashpoint Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that prompted a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. Although calm had appeared to take hold after the limited exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza militants, tensions were running high in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Thursday’s raid, deadliest single incursion in the West Bank since 2002, followed a particularly bloody month that saw at least 30 Palestinians — militants and civilians — killed in in confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank, according to a tally by the AP. Last year, as the Israeli military intensified its arrest raids following a string of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel, at least 150 Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. It was the highest annual death toll for more than a decade and a half. Thirty people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis last year. Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. The Israeli military contends its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. But Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and much of the world considers it illegally occupied. Israel claims as its united, sovereign capital. Palestinians also say the building of Jewish settlements in those territories threatens the prospect of a viable, contiguous future state. Home to the shrines of all three major monotheistic religions, the contested capital been the centerpiece of spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians for years. Read more: Palestinian teen wounds 2, day after 7 killed in Jerusalem Both Palestinian attackers behind the shootings on Friday and Saturday came from east Jerusalem. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem hold permanent residency status, allowing them to work and move freely throughout Israel, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases. Although their standard of living is generally better than in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian residents of the city receive a fraction of the services that Jewish residents do. They also complain of home demolitions and the near impossibility of obtaining Israeli building permits.
Palestinian teen wounds 2, day after 7 killed in Jerusalem
A Palestinian attacker in his early teens opened fire in east Jerusalem on Saturday, wounding two people, officials said, a day after another assailant killed seven outside a synagogue in the deadliest attack in the city since 2008. The shooting in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, near the historic Old City, wounded a father and son, ages 47 and 23, paramedics said. Both were fully conscious and in moderate to serious condition in the hospital, the medics added. Police said they shot and overpowered the 13-year-old attacker, wounding him. He was taken to a hospital, they said, and there was no further word on his condition. Video showed police escorting a wounded young man, wearing nothing but underwear, away from the scene and onto a stretcher. Authorities taped off the street and emergency vehicles and security forces swarmed the area as helicopters whirled overhead. Saturday's events — just a day before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to arrive in the region —raised the possibility of even greater conflagration in one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied West Bank in several years. On Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, in a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not internationally recognized. The attacks pose pivotal test for Israel’s new far-right government. Its firebrand minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has presented himself as an enforcer of law and order and grabbed headlines for his promises to take even stronger action against the Palestinians. The Israeli army said it had deployed another battalion to the West Bank on Saturday, adding hundreds more troops to a presence already on heightened alert in the occupied territory. Prime Minister Benjamin said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the sabbath, to discuss a further response to the attack near the synagogue. Security forces launched a crackdown early Saturday, fanning out into the neighborhood of the 21-year-old Palestinian gunman, who was shot and killed at the scene. Police arrested 42 of his family members and neighbors for questioning in the At-Tur neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Police Chief Kobi Shabtai moved a force analogous to a S.W.A.T. team in the city and beefed up forces, instructing police to work 12-hour shifts. He urged the public to call a hotline if they see anything suspicious. The earlier Friday attack, which occurred as residents were observing the Jewish sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians in the West Bank that prompted a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. Although calm had appeared to take hold after the limited exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza militants, tensions were running high in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Thursday's raid, deadliest single incursion in the West Bank since 2002, followed a particularly bloody month that saw at least 30 Palestinians — militants and civilians — killed in in confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and much of the world considers it illegally occupied. Israel claims as its united, sovereign capital. Home to archaeological ruins and shrines of all three major monotheistic religions, the contested capital been the centerpiece of spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians for years. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem hold permanent residency status, allowing them to work and move freely throughout Israel, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases. Although their standard of living is generally better than in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem receive a fraction of the services that Jewish residents do. They complain of home demolitions and the near impossibility of obtaining Israeli building permits.
Netanyahu government: West Bank settlements top priority
Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hard-line government put West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its list of priorities on Wednesday, a day before it’s set to be sworn into office. Netanyahu’s Likud party released the new government’s policy guidelines, the first of which is that it will “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel — in the Galilee, Negev, Golan Heights, and Judea and Samaria” — the Biblical names for the West Bank. The commitment could put the new government on a collision course with its closest allies, including the United States, which opposes settlement construction on occupied territories. Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. In the decades since, Israel has constructed dozens of Jewish settlements there that are now home to around 500,000 Israelis living alongside around 2.5 million Palestinians. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s new government — the most religious and hard-line in Israel’s history — is made up of ultra-Orthodox parties, an ultranationalist religious faction and his Likud party. It is to be sworn in on Thursday. Several of Netanyahu’s key allies, including most of the Religious Zionism party, are ultranationalist West Bank settlers. Also Read: Israel says it deported Palestinian activist to France On Wednesday, incoming finance minister Bezalel Smotrich said in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal that there would be no “changing the political or legal status” of the West Bank, running contrary to years of advocating annexation of the entire territory. He leveled criticism at the “feckless military government” that manages civilian affairs for Israeli settlers, including himself. Smotrich is set to assume control over the military government in the occupied West Bank under his second role — a newly created position as a minister in the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu is returning to power after he was ousted from office last year after serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2021. He will take office while on trial for allegedly accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, charges he denies. Netanyahu’s partners are seeking widespread policy reforms that could alienate large swaths of the Israeli public, raise tensions with the Palestinians, and put the country on a collision course with the United States and American Jewry. The Biden administration has said it strongly opposes settlement expansion and has rebuked the Israeli government for it in the past. Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s figurehead president expressed “deep concern” about the incoming government and its positions on LGBTQ rights, racism and the country’s Arab minority in a rare meeting called with Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the coalition’s most radical members. President Isaac Herzog met with Ben-Gvir, head of the Jewish Power faction and heir to the outlawed politician Meir Kahane, after members of his party called for the legalization of discrimination against LGBTQ people based on religious belief. Herzog’s office said the president urged Ben-Gvir to “calm the stormy winds and to be attentive to and internalize the criticism” about the incoming government’s stance on LGBTQ issues, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a bill to remove a ban on politicians supporting racism and terrorism from serving in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The government platform also mentioned that the loosely defined rules governing holy sites, including Jerusalem’s flashpoint shrine known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, would remain the same. Ben-Gvir and other Religious Zionism politicians had called for the “status quo” to be changed to allow Jewish prayer at the site, a move that risked inflaming tensions with the Palestinians. The status of the site is the emotional epicenter of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Twin blasts shake Jerusalem, killing 1 and wounding several
Two blasts went off near bus stops in Jerusalem at the height of morning rush hour on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring at least 18, in what police said were suspected attacks by Palestinians. The first explosion occurred near a typically crowded bus stop on the edge of the city. The second went off about half an hour later in Ramot, a settlement in the city's north. Police said one person died from their wounds and at least three were seriously wounded in the blasts. Israeli media said the person killed was a 16-year-old Jewish seminary student. Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been surging for months, amid nightly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank prompted by a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis that killed 19 people in the spring. There has been an uptick in recent weeks in Palestinian attacks. The violence occurred hours after Palestinian militants stormed a West Bank hospital and carried out an Israeli citizen seeking treatment there after a car accident, according to the young man's father. That incident could further ratchet up tensions. The developments took place as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding coalition talks after national elections and is likely to return to power as head of what's expected to be Israel's most right-wing government ever. Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extremist lawmaker who has called for the death penalty for Palestinian attackers and who is set to become the minister in charge of police under Netanyahu, said the attack meant Israel needed to take a tougher stance on Palestinian violence. Read more: 4 Palestinians killed in flare-up as Israel counts votes “We must exact a price from terror,” he said at the scene of the first explosion. “We must return to be in control of Israel, to restore deterrence against terror.” Police, who were searching for the suspected attackers, said their initial findings showed that shrapnel-laden explosive devices were placed at the two sites. The twin blasts occurred amid the buzz of rush hour traffic and police briefly closed part of a main highway leading out of the city, where the fist explosion went off. Video from shortly after the first blast showed debris strewn along the sidewalk as the wail of ambulances blared. A bus in Ramot was pocked with what looked like shrapnel marks. “It was a crazy explosion. There is damage everywhere here,” Yosef Haim Gabay, a medic who was at the scene when the first blast occurred, told Israeli Army Radio. “I saw people with wounds bleeding all over the place.” While Palestinians have carried out stabbings, car rammings and shootings in recent years, bombing attacks have become very rare since the end of a Palestinian uprising nearly two decades ago. The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem condemned the violence, as did EU Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev. The Islamic militant Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and once carried out suicide bombings against Israelis, praised the perpetrators of the attacks, calling it a heroic operation, but stopped short of claiming responsibility. "The occupation is reaping the price of its crimes and aggression against our people,” Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanua said. Israel said that in response to the blasts, it was closing two West Bank crossings to Palestinians near the West Bank city of Jenin, a militant stronghold. In Jenin late Tuesday, militants entered a hospital and removed the Israeli teen wounded in a car accident. The young man, 17, was from Israel's Druze minority. His father, who was in the hospital room with him, said the militants disconnected him from hospital equipment and took him while still alive. The Israeli military said the young man was already dead when he was taken. “It was something horrendous. It was something that was inhumane," Husam Ferro, the teen's father, told Israeli news site YNet. “He was still alive and they took him in front of my eyes and I couldn’t do anything.” A Druze community leader told YNet talks were underway on the body's release. Palestinian militants have in the past carried out kidnappings to seek concessions from Israel. Read more: Israel strikes Gaza home of Hamas leader, AP office Palestinian officials either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2006. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the military incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed. At least eight Israelis have been killed in the most recent wave of Palestinian attacks. The Israeli military said Wednesday that Palestinian gunmen opened fire on forces escorting worshippers to a flashpoint shrine in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight. The troops fired back and the Palestinian Health Ministry said a 16-year-old was killed in the incident. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and Gaza. The Palestinians seek the territories for their hoped-for independent state.
4 Palestinians killed in flare-up as Israel counts votes
Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians in separate incidents on Thursday, including one who had stabbed a police officer in east Jerusalem and three others in Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank. Early Friday, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire Thursday evening from the Palestinian enclave. The rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes were the first cross-border violence since a cease-fire ended a round of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group there in August. The violence flared as Israel completed the counting of votes in national elections held this week, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies capturing a comfortable majority of seats in Israel's parliament. In the West Bank, Israeli troops operating in the Jenin refugee camp, a militant stronghold, killed at least two Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said one of those killed was a local commander. Residents said he was killed while at the butcher, where he was buying meat ahead of his wedding this weekend. Read more: ‘Free Palestine’: Protesters in major US cities decry airstrikes over Gaza The army said Farouk Salameh was wanted in a number of shooting attacks on Israeli security forces, including the killing of a police officer last May. It said that a firefight ensued, Salameh fled and then drew a gun at soldiers who shot and killed him. Late Thursday, Gaza militants fired a rocket into southern Israel, setting off air-raid sirens in the area. The army said the rocket was intercepted, and that three other launch attempts failed and exploded inside Gaza. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but in the past, Islamic Jihad has fired rockets in response to the killings of its members. In response, the Israeli military said it targeted an underground site used by Gaza's Hamas rulers as a rocket-making facility. The airstrikes “will significantly impede” Hamas' rocket capabilities, it said. It also blamed the militant group for attacks emanating from Gaza. There were no reports of casualties. Earlier Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank. Israeli police said it happened during a raid in the territory and alleged the man threw a firebomb at the forces. In a separate incident Thursday, a Palestinian stabbed a police officer in Jerusalem’s Old City, police said, and officers opened fire on the attacker, killing him. The officer was lightly wounded. The violence came as a political shift is underway in Israel after national elections, with Netanyahu set to return to power in a coalition government made up of far-right allies, including the extremist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, who in response to the incidents said Israel would soon take a tougher approach to attackers. “The time has come to restore security to the streets,” he tweeted. “The time has come for a terrorist who goes out to carry out an attack to be taken out!” Read more: Israel-Palestine conflict: China calls for UN council action, slams US Israel-Palestine conflict: China calls for UN council action, slams US The violence was the latest in a wave of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that has killed more than 130 Palestinians this year, making 2022 the deadliest since the U.N. started tracking fatalities in 2005. The violence intensified in the spring, after a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people, prompting Israel to launch a months-long operation in the West Bank it says is meant to dismantle militant networks. The raids have been met in recent weeks by a rise in attacks against Israelis, killing at least three. Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But youths protesting the incursions and people uninvolved in the fighting have also been killed. Also on Thursday, Israel said it was removing checkpoints in and out of the city of Nablus. Israel had imposed the restrictions weeks ago, clamping down on the city in response to a new militant group known as the Lions' Den. The military has conducted repeated operations in the city in recent weeks, killing or arresting the group's top commanders. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and has since maintained a military occupation over the territory and settled more than 500,000 people there. The Palestinians want the territory, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem, for their hoped-for independent state.
8 Israelis wounded in Jerusalem shooting
A gunman opened fire at a bus near Jerusalem’s Old City early Sunday, wounding eight Israelis in a suspected Palestinian attack that came a week after violence flared up between Israel and militants in Gaza, police and medics said. Two of the victims were in serious condition, including a pregnant woman with abdominal injuries and a man with gunshot wounds to the head and neck, according to Israeli hospitals treating them. The shooting occurred as the bus waited in a parking lot near the Western Wall, which is considered the holiest site where Jews can pray. Israeli police said forces were dispatched to the scene to investigate. Israeli security forces also pushed into the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan pursuing the suspected attacker. The attack in Jerusalem followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Read:Death toll from weekend Israel-Gaza fighting rises to 47 Last weekend, Israeli aircraft unleashed an offensive in the Gaza Strip targeting the militant group Islamic Jihad and setting off three days of fierce cross-border fighting. Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets during the flare-up to avenge the airstrikes, which killed two of its commanders and other militants. Israel said the attack was meant to thwart threats from the group to respond to the arrest of one of its officials in the occupied West Bank. Forty-nine Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 militants, were killed, and several hundred were injured in the fighting, which ended with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire. No Israeli was killed or seriously injured. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, stayed on the sidelines. A day after the cease-fire halted the worst round of Gaza fighting in more than a year, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and wounded dozens in a shootout that erupted during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Israeli nationalists chant racist slogans in Jerusalem march
Thousands of Israeli nationalists, some of them chanting “Death to Arabs,” paraded through the heart of the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, in a show of force that risked setting off a new wave of violence in the tense city. The crowds, who were overwhelmingly young Orthodox Jewish men, were celebrating Jerusalem Day -- an Israeli holiday that marks the capture of the Old City in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians see the event, which passes through the heart of the Muslim Quarter, as a provocation. Last year, the parade helped trigger an 11-day war with Gaza militants, and this year's march drew condemnations from the Palestinians and neighboring Jordan. Also read: Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter Israel said it deployed thousands of police and security forces for the event, and violent scuffles between Jewish and Palestinian groups erupted inside the Old City before the parade began. As the march got underway, groups of Orthodox Jewish youths gathered outside Damascus Gate, waving flags, singing religious and nationalistic songs, and shouting “the Jewish nation lives” before entering the Muslim Quarter. One large group chanted “Death to Arabs,” and “Let your village burn down” before descending into the Old City. Police cleared Palestinians out of the area, which is normally a bustling Palestinian thoroughfare. At one point, a drone flying a Palestinian flag flew overhead before police intercepted it. Ahead of the march, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “flying the flag of Israel in the capital of Israel is an obvious thing,” but also urged participants to celebrate in a “responsible and respectful manner.” Bennett later issued a statement instructing police to show “no tolerance” toward the racist groups. He described them as a “minority that came to set the area on fire” and vowed to prosecute violent extremists — a step that few Israeli governments have taken in the past. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the racist groups “a disgrace.” Thousands of people normally take part in the march through the Muslim Quarter, including some who shout out nationalistic or racist slogans toward the Palestinians, before making their way to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter on the other side of the Old City. Last year, after weeks of Israeli-Palestinian unrest in Jerusalem, authorities changed the route of the march at the last minute to avoid the Muslim Quarter. But it was too late by then, and Hamas militants in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem as the procession was getting underway. That set off 11 days of heavy fighting. Sunday’s march came at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly confronted stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators in the disputed compound in recent months, often firing rubber bullets and stun grenades. At the same time, some 19 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the occupied West Bank in recent weeks, while over 35 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank. Some were armed, while others were shot while allegedly throwing stones or firebombs at troops. But several appear appear to have been uninvolved in any violence, including Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite channel. Jerusalem police were criticized internationally for beating mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral two weeks ago. Despite the recent unrest, Israeli leaders decided to allow this year's parade to take place along its traditional route through the Muslim Quarter. Ahead the march, there were small scuffles between Israeli nationalists and Palestinians, who threw chairs and bottles and shouted “God is great” at the marchers. Some marchers sprayed pepper spray at Palestinians and journalists. In one video shared on social media, a young Jewish man kicked and sprayed an older Palestinian woman in the face, sending her crumbling to the ground. Police also fired rubber-tipped bullets and used clubs and pepper spray to disperse Palestinian protesters from the area. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said 62 people were injured, including 23 who needed hospitalization. Israeli police said they arrested over 50 suspects suspected of disorderly conduct or assaulting police officers. It said five officers were injured. Also read: Israel busts Hamas group for terrorist attack schemes Ahead of the march, over 2,500 Jews visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site inside the Old City, as Palestinians barricaded inside the Al Aqsa Mosque threw rocks and fireworks. Al Aqsa is situated on a hilltop compound revered by Muslims and Jews. The mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam, and the Palestinians are fiercely protective over what they consider to be a potent symbol of their national aspirations. The compound also is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical Temples. The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered numerous rounds of violence. Police also said one of the Jewish groups “violated visitation rules” and was removed. Israeli media said the group had unfurled Israeli flags in the compound. Under longstanding arrangements known as the “status quo,” Jews are allowed to visit the compound but not pray. In recent years, however, the number of Jewish visitors has grown significantly, including some who have been spotted quietly praying. Such scenes have sparked Palestinian fears that Israel is plotting to take over or divide the area. Israel denies such claims, saying it remains committed to the status quo. Among the visitors was Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party and a follower of the late racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who entered with dozens of supporters under heavy police guard. Palestinians shouted “God is great” as Ben-Gvir, accompanied by Israeli police, shouted “the Jewish people live.” Police said they locked the gates of the mosque and said they made 18 arrests. Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of “playing with fire irresponsibily and recklessly.” Jordan condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit to the site and warned that the “provocative and escalating march” could make things deteriorate further. Jordan controlled east Jerusalem until Israel captured it in 1967 and it remains the custodian over Muslim holy sites. Israel captured east Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has annexed east Jerusalem in a move that isn’t internationally recognized and claims all of the city as its capital. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Gaza’s Hamas rulers praised what they called “the great heroism” shown by Palestinians at Al Aqsa earlier Sunday. “The Islamic Palestinian Arab identity of the Al Aqsa Mosque will be protected by our people and their valiant resistance with all their might,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the group. The group, however, may be wary of getting involved in another round of fighting. Gaza was hard hit in last year’s war, and the territory is still struggling to repair the damage. In addition, some 12,000 Gazan laborers are now permitted to work inside Israel as part of efforts to maintain calm between the enemies. Renewed fighting could risk losing those jobs, which have given a small boost to Gaza’s devastated economy.