Israel's public security minister decried Friday's settler attack against human rights activists in the West Bank as the "actions of a terror organization," after over a dozen masked assailants violently attacked the group near the Palestinian village of Burin.
"In this case, it is apparently an organized action, in my view, of a terror group working together," Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said Sunday, adding that the group targeted and harmed "Israeli citizens who came to demonstrate at the site."
When questioned on the lack of arrests, Bar-Lev said "it took time" for the police to arrive, as the attack took place in Area B of the West Bank, where Bar-Lev said "the army wasn't present." According to the Oslo Accords, Area B of the West Bank is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control.
"Until the army gets there it takes time. Until the police were sent it took time and therefore ...the moment the police arrive at the site, the terrorists are no longer there," he said.
Bar-Lev added that it is "very difficult" for police to collect evidence, even if one of the attackers had been identified.
Also on Sunday, police said Palestinian cars were vandalized in town of Qira in the northern West Bank, with perpetrators spray-painting Stars of David on the vehicles and puncturing their tires.
Seven left-wing activists were lightly wounded during Friday's attack in the West Bank. The activists had been in Burin, south of Nablus to help Palestinian farmers plant trees in areas that had been damaged or vandalized in the past. Many of the human rights workers were older, and they came from the organizations Rabbis for Human Rights, Olive Harvest Coalition, Machsom Watch and the Bekaa Coalition.
- Bennett says settler violence is 'insignificant.' The reality on the ground tells a different story
- Bar-Lev's stand against settler violence won't make him any right wing friends
- I grew up watching settlers attacking my Palestinian village. They're getting bolder
According to some of the activists, the group of around 15 masked assailants came from the nearby illegal outpost of Giv'at Ronen, fleeing the scene before Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene.
Footage from the scene depicts a group of masked people attacking activists who had come to help Palestinian farmers plant trees with clubs, hurling stones at them and setting one of their cars on fire.
One of the injured activists, Doron Meinrat, is still hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva after undergoing surgery in his arm, which was broken in the attack.
Police said on Saturday evening that they have yet to arrest suspects in the attack, and that the Shin Bet security service is also involved in the investigation. Defense officials are familiar with the outpost of Giv'at Ronen, which is near where the attack occurred, as a source of past acts of violence against the village of Burin.
Bar-Lev caused a political storm last month after he told a top U.S. official that Israel views settler violence "severely" and that it is taking steps to tackle the phenomenon.
Several ministers slammed Bar-Lev for his comments, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked calling him "confused" and Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana dubbing his comments "sad" and part of a "distorted narrative."