A Palestinian has been shot dead in a West Bank village that was attacked by settlers, a day after Hamas gunmen killed four Israelis as violence ramps up in the occupied territories.
Omar Qattin, 27, was killed as hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed the village of Turmus Ayya on Wednesday and set fire to dozens of cars and homes.
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Qattin was a father of two children and worked as an electrician for the local municipality.
“He was just standing there, innocent. He is such a kind-hearted kid. He had no stones. He was totally unarmed. He was at least half a mile [1km] away from the military,” said Khamis Jbara, his neighbour. “He works from 6am to 6pm. He is a peaceful man.”
It was not clear whether Qattin was killed by a settler or a soldier. Witnesses told local media that a number of settlers fired live rounds at village residents as a large contingent of Israeli troops stormed in.
The Red Crescent Society told the Palestinian Wafa news agency a number of settlers prevented ambulances from reaching the town to treat the wounded.
Palestinian residents and human rights groups have long complained about Israel’s inability or refusal to halt settler attacks. In Wednesday’s rampage, residents in Turmus Ayya said about 400 settlers marched down its main road, setting cars, homes and trees ablaze.
Mayor Lafi Adeeb told Wafa that 12 residents were wounded by live fire and more than 60 vehicles and 30 homes were set on fire.
“The attacks intensified in the past hour even after the army came,” he said.
Settlers also set fire to vast areas of farmland, Adeeb added.
He called on the international community to provide protection for Palestinians, noting that Turmus Ayya is surrounded by a number of illegal settlements and is exposed on a daily basis to settler attacks.
Under international law, Israeli settlements are illegal. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1,000 new housing units in the settlement of Eli in response to the deadly shooting neaby of four Israelis by two Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday. The suspected assailants were later killed.
“Our answer to terror is to strike it hard and to build our country,” Netanyahu said, whose far-right government is dominated by settler leaders and supporters.
His statement came days after the government gave far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich sweeping powers to expedite the construction of illegal settlements, bypassing measures in place for 27 years.
‘Clearing the way’
Tuesday’s violence followed a bloody incursion a day earlier by Israeli forces at the Jenin refugee camp, where seven Palestinians were killed and at least 90 were wounded in scenes not seen since the second Intifada uprising more than 20 years ago.
In Jenin on Wednesday, girls in school uniforms carried the body of their classmate who was killed in the Israeli army raid. Sadil Naghnaghiya, 15, died from gunshot wounds suffered during the hours-long attack, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Palestinian residents of Turmus Ayya, known for its large number of US citizens, were seething and in shock after the settler violence.
Streets were littered with uprooted trees, charred yard furniture and skeletons of burned-out vehicles. At least one house was completely engulfed in flames, the living room blackened, and furniture reduced to ashes.
“It was terrifying. We just saw mobs of people in the streets, masked, armed,” said Mohammed Suleiman, a 56-year-old Palestinian American who lives in Chicago and was visiting his hometown.
He said his brother, who is currently in Chicago, owns one of the burned homes.
Suleiman blamed the Israeli military for failing to de-escalate the situation, saying soldiers turned their weapons on Palestinian residents instead of rioters marching into the town with guns and petrol bombs, throwing fuel and setting alight everything in their path.
“[The army] was literally clearing the way for them,” Suleiman said.
Abdulkarim Abdulkarim, 44, a resident of Ohio, said his family’s four cars were destroyed and their house damaged. “We feel totally unsafe,” he said, visibly shaken. “They call us terrorists, but here you have terrorism supported by the government.”
The settler attacks brought back memories of a rampage in February in which dozens of cars and homes were torched in the town of Huwara after the killing of two Israeli brothers by a Palestinian gunman.
Palestinian organizations condemned the violence in Turmus Ayya.
“The attack by flocks of heavily armed terrorist settlers on our Palestinian villages and towns and terrorising the unarmed citizens constitutes a dangerous escalation and a heinous crime that is carried out with incitement and support of the fascist occupation government, which bears full responsibility for its repercussions,” Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, said in a statement.
For its part, the Fatah party, which leads the Palestinian Authority, called on Palestinians “to confront the systematic settler attacks that are carried out with the complicity of the occupation army”, stressing that the violence demonstrates the escalatory aims of the Israeli government, which is made up of “hardened settlers and extremists”.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Jihad Selmi said illegal settlements are a “legitimate target for the resistance” and described the Israeli attacks as “escalating terrorism”.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.