“All hell broke loose,” said Mohammad Awad Toroms, a 26-year-old resident of Turmus Ayya. Like many others in the small community, he is also an American citizen.
“We were left alone, with no one to protect us, neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israeli soldiers,” Toroms added. He said he helped treat five people affected by live rounds.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that 1,000 new housing units would be built in Eli, the Israeli settlement where Palestinian militants opened fire on Israeli civilians Tuesday outside a gas station and a hummus restaurant. In addition to the fatalities, four Israelis were injured in the mass shooting, including one who was in serious condition.
4 Israelis killed by Palestinian gunmen as violence escalates in West Bank
“Our response to terrorism is to attack it with force and build our country,” read a joint statement by Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right settler who also holds a special place in the Ministry of Defense. .
Israeli soldiers, police and firefighters entered Turmus Ayya “to put out fires, prevent clashes and collect evidence,” according to an army statement, and were met by Palestinians throwing stones. During the clashes, Omar Ketin, 27, was shot in the chest, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, although the circumstances of his death were not yet clear.
The Israel Defense Forces condemned the uproar, which the military said would “prevent the IDF and security forces from focusing on their primary mission: maintaining the security of the State of Israel and preventing terrorism”. He added that Israeli police have opened an investigation into the incident.
“We will not tolerate any form of aggression,” Netanyahu promised.
The Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based Jewish advocacy organization, also issued a swift condemnation: “There is no excuse for violence. Israeli security forces must go after all those involved and do more to protect Palestinian individuals and property,” the group he said on Twitter.
Israeli settlers swarm Palestinian towns in retaliation for the shootings
Wednesday’s attack was reminiscent of a February assault by vigilante settlers in the West Bank city of Huwara after two Israeli brothers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Afterward, Smotrich said that Huwara, the gunman’s hometown, should be “exterminated” and that “Israel should be the one to do it.” Under international pressure, he later backtracked, saying he did not realize his words could be interpreted as a military order.
Although videos circulating on social networks appeared to show settlers met little resistance as they stormed Turmus Ayya on Wednesday, Israeli soldiers thwarted smaller settler attacks on Tuesday night in Huwara, Beit Furik and other Palestinian villages, according to local media.
Violence rises in the West Bank as Israel expands settlements and Palestinian militant networks attract recruits. A pre-dawn Israeli military incursion into the city of Jenin on Monday turned into an unusually fierce eight-hour firefight that left seven Palestinians dead. For the first time since the early 2000s, Israel used combat helicopters to extricate its soldiers, who were caught in militant fire.
At least 114 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank on June 12, including militants and civilians, according to the United Nations. At least 19 Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the same period, a UN humanitarian agency said.
Israel’s new government is the most far-right in the country’s history, having come to power promising to strengthen the occupation of the Palestinian territories and adopt a tougher line in the fight against terrorism. Some cabinet officials, including Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, have been detained by Israeli security forces in the past for their involvement with anti-Arab terrorist groups.
They get their most passionate support from Israeli settlers, who number more than 500,000 in the West Bank and have increasingly asserted that it is their responsibility to respond to Palestinian violence.
“You are a new force in the field that can change the equation and reach a state of zero terrorism!” said a message posted Wednesday on “Fighting for Life,” a WhatsApp group that regularly calls on Israeli settlers to avenge Palestinian attacks. “It is possible, and it is in our hands!
In the settlement of Eli, funerals were held Wednesday for the victims of Tuesday’s shooting, including Elisha Anteman, 17, and Ofer Feierman, 63.
Michal Visel, a spokeswoman for Eli, told Channel 12 that the attack on Turmus Ayya was carried out by youths “angry” about the situation.
“I can’t judge people who are trying to take out their disappointment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smotrich has called on Israel to deploy its air force and launch a broad military operation in the West Bank, a move analysts warned could spur a return to the relentless bloodshed of the second intifada two decades ago.
On Wednesday afternoon, the IDF said it had killed three people in a rare drone strike on a “suspicious vehicle” near Jenin, targeting a “terrorist cell” that had “carried out a shooting at side of the city of Jalamah.” Videos in social networks showed smoke and emergency response vehicles at the scene.
“A perfect storm is raging: a 56-year Israeli occupation; the most extreme Israeli government; Hamas/Jihad supported independent Palestinian cells and groups in the West Bank that planned terrorist attacks.” he tweeted Aaron David Miller, former State Department coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiations.
He called the situation “a bloody cul-de-sac [with] there is no way out.”
Taha reported from Jerusalem. Miriam Berger in Washington contributed to this report.