Israeli Army Beefs Up West Bank Forces Amid Growing Tension, Settler Attacks

Defense officials are concerned settlers will attack Palestinians, following a woman's murder and a string of incidents over the past days

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Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near Nablus in the West Bank, November 2020.
Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near Nablus in the West Bank, November 2020. Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

The Israeli military said Tuesday it would bolster its forces in the West Bank, as tensions spiked following the murder of an Israeli settler the previous day, which police suspect to be a terrorist attack.

The Israeli army said in a statement that it intends to increase its presence in the territories "to protect communities and roads in the area," adding that all combat soldiers were ordered to stay on their bases.

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The body of 52-year-old Esther Horgen, a resident of the settlement of Tal Menashe, was found Sunday overnight in the Reihan forest in the northern West Bank after family members reported that she had not returned home from a run. Police suspect the killing was politically motivated.

Security officials are concerned the killing will trigger other terrorist attacks as well as retaliatory acts by settlers aimed at Palestinians.

Israeli defense officials said they have recorded at least 13 attacks on Palestinians or vandalism of Palestinian property since the death of Horgen, who was laid to rest on Tuesday. In two incidents, Palestinians were reported injured.

On Monday afternoon, an Israeli teen suspected of throwing stones at Palestinians died in an accident during a car chase with the police. Four other suspects who were in the car were injured and taken to a Jerusalem hospital.

The fatal accident led to protests in Jerusalem later on Monday, with dozens of settlers, including friends of the deceased 16-year-old, Ahuvia Sandak, demonstrating in front of the police headquarters in Jerusalem. Some of them tried to break into the compound, and police said at least 50 were detained during clashes with police.

The Bat Yam Magistrate's Court extended the detention of the four suspects in the incident involving Sandak, including two juveniles, until Thursday. They were in the car in which Sandak was killed. The four are suspected of throwing stones and endangering a motorist. They were brought to a police station from the hospital, where they were treated for light injuries.

The four claim that the accident in which the car overturned occurred when it was rammed by an unmarked police car. Photos were circulated showing a car that they claim is the police car and which appears to have hit something. The Justice Ministry's police misconduct unit has opened an investigation into Sandak's death.

A driver from the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber who works for the Egged Ta'avura bus company reported being  attacked with pepper spray and stones when he stopped for passengers at the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, where later in the day, Sandak's funeral was held. The 24-year-old driver, Nur Sharikat, said when he opened the doors of the bus, a man asked where the bus was going and then got on the bus and sprayed him with pepper spray. Another man then got on from the rear door and sprayed him again, Sharikat recounted.

The driver said a crowd then gathered that threw stones at him, hitting him in the head. The crowd shouted "Death to the Arabs," he said, and one person aimed a gun at him. Sharikat said he drove to the guard post at the settlement, where an ambulance was called and he was then taken to Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem in Jerusalem. "I had the feeling that they wanted to kill me," he told Haaretz.

In another incident, a 14-year-old boy was hit in the head with stones thrown at a truck in which he was a passenger near the Beit Anun junction in the Hebron area.

Also on Monday, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces who reported that he had attempted to carry out a shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to police, the suspect opened fire with an improvized  Carlo submachine gun at security forces stationed at Huta Gate, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Police forces then chased him and shot him dead.

He was identified as 17-year-old Mahmoud Kmail from the town of Qabatiya in the West Bank. The police statement said another man from Muqeible, an Arab village in Israel, was arrested on suspicion of aiding the alleged gunman.

One Israeli police officer stumbled while chasing the suspect and was lightly injured.

Earlier, some 20 settlers blocked the Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, as well as roads near the settlements of Kedumim. In another incident, Palestinian workers reported that their car tires were slashed near Hebron.  

On Tuesday morning, a Shin Bet security service agent mistakenly shot at an Israeli driver in the West Bank, believing he was attempting a car-ramming attack. The driver was not hurt. 

The army and Shin Bet have launched an investigation into the incident. 

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