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Israel arrests settlers after anti-Palestinian ‘pogrom’

Police arrested six suspects earlier this week in connection with a far-right settler rampage in the occupied West Bank that an Israeli general described as a “pogrom”.

The settlers attacked villages around the West Bank town of Nablus hours after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers as they drove across the West Bank on Sunday.

One Palestinian was killed by Israelis in the attack and at least 390 were injured, with Palestinian media reporting stabbings and attacks with metal bars and stones.

Dozens of cars and houses were also set on fire by the settlers.

Israeli police said on Wednesday they expected to make more arrests during their ongoing investigation into settler violence, which centered on the Palestinian village of Huwara, where the two Israeli brothers from a nearby settlement were shot dead.

Israeli media had reported on Tuesday that only eight settlers had previously been arrested following the violence and all had been released.

Major General Yehuda Fuchs, who commands the Israeli army in the area, defended his forces’ role in the violence, after Palestinians accused soldiers of watching as the settlers attacked.

Fuchs called the incident a “pogrom” and said that while his troops had prepared for settler attacks, they were surprised by the intensity of the violence, which he said was committed by dozens of people.

“The Huwara incident was a pogrom carried out by bandits,” Fuchs told N12 News late on Tuesday.

Political tensions

Fuchs’ comments came amid growing tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government, including hardline settlers demanding a crackdown on Palestinian attacks.

One of them, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called on people not to “take the law into their own hands”, while his Jewish power party has accused Netanyahu of being weak on “terrorism”.

“This is not ‘taking the law into your own hands’ because lawful people do not sow terror among the (civilian) population,” said Fuchs. “Collective punishment does not help against terrorism, on the contrary, it can even cause terrorism.”

Ben-Gvir himself had responded to the violence by holding a press conference at the Evytar outpost, where he called for the outpost to be legalized.

Another member of the Jewish Power Party, Zvika Fogel, appeared to welcome the settlers’ attacks.

“A terrorist came from Huwara – and Huwara was closed down and burned,” Fogel said. “This is what I want to see. Only then can we achieve deterrence.”

“After a murder like (Sunday) villages should be on fire if the IDF (Israeli army) does not act,” she added.

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover celebration weeks ahead, foreign mediators have sought to ease tensions that have built up over the past year.

Israeli forces have carried out three large-scale raids on Palestinian cities since Israel’s new government took office late last year, including one in Nablus on February 22 that led to the largest Palestinian death toll in a single Israeli military operation since 2005.

Palestinian armed activity has also increased, with several groups emerging in the West Bank over the past year.

“I’m concerned,” US Ambassador Tom Nides said late Tuesday at the conference of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“This is going to be a very complicated period that we’re getting into. We need to keep things as calm as possible to avoid things getting out of hand, which could easily happen,” Nides said.