price tag 311.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
RAMALLAH - An escalation in Jewish settler attacks on Palestinian villages in the Israeli-occupied West Bank risks triggering retaliation, a Palestinian official said on Thursday, pointing to a growing risk to stability in the region.
Incidents over the past two weeks have included acts of vandalism against three West Bank mosques, increasing tension just a week before the Palestinians seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations.
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In some villages, Palestinians are organizing neighborhood watch groups in an effort at deterrence. The governor of Nablus, an area where villages are often targeted, ordered the formation of the unarmed volunteer groups last week.
"We are very much concerned by the significant increase in settler violence and aggression against Palestinians," Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.
"In the last 10 days, there have been a few incidents almost every day.
The continuity of violence is playing the role of inciting Palestinians
for a violent response," he said. "That might bring us back to the
vicious circle of violence that we all wanted to avoid."
Three cars were torched in the early hours of Thursday morning in the
village of Beit Furik, just outside Nablus, an area home to some of
the most ideological members of the settler movement.
Beit Furik Mayor Atef Hanani said it was the first time settlers had
staged such an attack in the village. "People are on guard," he added.
"We need to take a stand to defend ourselves and our property."
One apparent trigger for the latest wave was the Israeli authorities'
removal of buildings at an unauthorized settler outpost on Sept. 5.
The name of the settlement, Migron, was daubed on the walls of a mosque
which was set ablaze in the village of Qusra the same day. In the past,
such attacks have been seen as a form of reprisal by the settlers.
RISK OF "MAJOR ESCALATION"
The UN agency OCHA, which documents such incidents, has recorded a rise in settler violence this year compared to last.
But the frequency appears to have gone up further still this month. In
the Nablus area, six cars have been torched in a week. In a normal
month, the average is one, said Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official
who monitors settler violence.
The Israeli authorities' action against Migron also appeared to explain
an act of vandalism on Sept. 7 at a West Bank army base. Pro-settler
graffiti was daubed on walls there.
Asked about the wave of attacks, an Israeli police spokesman said there
was a decision to set up "a special investigations task force to deal
with the large number of incidents that have taken place over a short
space of time".
Palestinians fear more trouble in the days leading up to Sept. 23, when
their president plans to ask the United Nations to admit Palestine as a
full member state.
The step amounts to an attempt to gain UN recognition of a state on
land occupied by Israel in a 1967 war and to which many settlers stake a
"The atmosphere is very, very tense," said Hani Abu Murad, the mayor of
Qusra, where the mosque was set ablaze on Sept. 5. Elsewhere, graffiti
was daubed on the walls of at least two other mosques, one of them in
Birzeit, just outside Ramallah.
Between 15 and 20 volunteers have been taking part in the neighbourhood
watch group set up in the village, Abu Murad said. Their presence
appeared to have scared off settlers who had approached again a few days
ago, he said.
The volunteers' instructions are to phone the governor of Nablus in case
of trouble, he said. The governor in turn contacts the Israeli army.
But the villagers have little faith in the Israeli security forces, criticized for not doing enough to rein in settlers.
"There is a long term systemic failure to protect Palestinians and their
property from the violence of Israeli citizens in the occupied
territories," said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human
rights group B'Tselem.
"The actual impact of one of these attacks is much larger than just the localized problem. It could lead to a major escalation."