Settlers march into Palestinian villages, sparking clashes
Dozens of settlers yesterday invaded Palestinian villages on the West Bank, and the Israel Defense Forces had to deploy large numbers of troops, including special forces, to drive them out.
During the course of the incidents, which took place in the Nablus and Tul Karm areas, 22 settlers were arrested, some of them after being chased by the troops. All were released after being questioned.
Military and police sources blasted the settlers' behavior, calling it a deliberate provocation that endangered the lives of both soldiers and civilians. They said the settlers apparently wished to create a provocation on Independence Day, probably as a protest against the disengagement plan, which is due to be implemented in the northern West Bank in September.
The incidents began early in the morning. Initially some 40 settlers, mostly yeshiva students, marched from the Elon Moreh settlement east of Nablus toward Homesh, which is slated for evacuation under the disengagement. They entered the Palestinian village of Ein Bidan, thereby violating an IDF Central Command order forbidding Israelis to enter Area A (territory designated by the Oslo Accords as being under full Palestinian control). They also failed to coordinate the move with the IDF, as required.
A paratroops force was sent to the area and Lieutenant Colonel Guy Hazut ordered the marchers to halt, but they ignored him. The troops eventually chased and arrested 22 settlers and took them to the Ariel police station for questioning. The rest of the settlers fled, but several apparently managed to reach Homesh.
Some 10 other settlers, mostly from the Yitzhar settlement, marched from the settlement of Einav to Sa-Nur, which is also slated for evacuation. En route, they entered the village of Ramoun, where Palestinians opened fire on them, but nobody was hurt.
IDF troops, including special forces, were dispatched to the village in case the settlers needed to be rescued. However, the settlers left the village themselves and reached Sa-Nur before the soldiers could find them. IDF officers took down the license plate numbers of the cars the settlers left near Einav and police will summon the owners for questioning.
In another incident, settlers marching from Elon Moreh to Itamar clashed with Palestinians near the village of Salem and burned down some 70 dunams of Palestinian orchards.
Settlers also entered the village of Anabta, and police arrested four Yitzhar residents, all with police records for disturbing the peace, on suspicion of participating in the incursion. However, they were released when it transpired that they had nothing to do with the incident.
Senior officers said that the settlers acted irresponsibly, causing the army unnecessary trouble, and the incidents could have ended with casualties. "The marchers did not act in a vacuum," one officer told Haaretz. "Public figures in the settlements, such as Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh and Daniella Weiss, should stop such reckless acts. Instead, they encourage these provocations."
In Hebron, during the city's Memorial Day ceremony on Tuesday, dozens of youths interrupted a speech by Hebron Brigade Commander Colonel Moti Baruch with catcalls and boos. The settlers invite the brigade commander to speak at the Memorial Day ceremony every year.
Military sources said the incident was regrettable. "The behavior of a handful of residents harmed the rally," said one. "This is not the way to treat those who risk their lives all year round to protect Israeli citizens in the area."
Jonathan Lis contributed to this story.