Israeli settlers have noticeably escalated attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in April despite restriction of movement and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a rights group says.
In an official report on Saturday, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem said since the outbreak of the contagious disease in the occupied territories, the settlers have ramped up their assaults with full support from Israel.
B’Tselem said during the first three weeks of the current month only at least 23 attacks by settlers had been documented compared to 23 such incidents throughout March, adding that 11 of these attacks were conducted after mid-March when strict restrictions on movement and social gatherings were imposed.
The report went on to say that for comparison it was worth noting that only 11 attacks had been recorded in January and 12 in February.
According to the report, in these violent incidents, Israeli settlers, some of them carrying firearms, physically assaulted Palestinians with clubs, axes, electroshock weapons, stones, and assault dogs, inflicting severe injuries in a number of cases.
It added that settlers also launched attacked Palestinian homes, set their cars on fire, vandalized their property, and uprooted their olive trees and other crops as well as sealing their livestock.
B’Tselem said that such incidents occurred throughout the occupied West Bank, stressing that three flashpoints have witnessed most of the attacks, namely the area around the recently-expanded outpost of Havat Ma’on in the southern hills of al-Khalil (Hebron).
The second epicenter has been the area around the Shilo settlement and its adjoining bloc of outposts, it added, saying that in this area the villages of al-Mughayir, Turmusaya, Qaryut, and Sarah have also been within the target range.
The area around the Halamish settlement, where another new outpost was recently established, has been the third epicenter in the West Bank, the report added.
Furthermore, Israeli settlers harass Palestinian shepherds almost every day in the Jordan Valley in the vicinity of Rimonim and Kochav Hashahar settlements, and also in the southern parts of al-Khalil, the report added.
B’Tselem added that Israel settlers also graze their cattle and sheep in Palestinians’ cultivated fields, mostly in the Jordan Valley, on a daily basis, stressing that these routine acts of harassment and vandalism were not included in the data gathered by the rights group.
“Five of eight attacks on Palestinian homes in March occurred in the presence of soldiers, who not only allowed the settlers to do as they pleased but took action against Palestinians trying to protect their families and homes. In some cases, soldiers arrested residents, and in at least three incidents fired tear gas canisters at residents,” B’Tselem said.
“In three incidents, the soldiers arrived with the marauding settlers or joined them early on in the assault. Similar incidents occurred in April, with soldiers firing rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at residents, as has happened in the villages of Qusrah and a-Shuyukh on April 6,” the report further read.
For years, Israel has clearly allowed its settlers to assault Palestinians and inflict damage on their property as one of its policies. This has included the provision of military protection for the attackers, and in some cases troopers’ active participation in the assault, B’Tselem concluded.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
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