(photo credit: Courtesy Michaely)
The security establishment is worried about an acute rise in violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank ahead of the beginning of the olive harvest season, and in the wake of the violent weekend clashes near the Yitzhar settlement which left at least nine wounded, Army Radio reported on Sunday.
On Saturday, dozens of settlers went on the rampage through a Palestinian village near Nablus, shooting in the streets and stoning homes and cars, after a nine-year-old boy was stabbed in the nearby settlement of Yitzhar.
According to Yigal Amitai, a spokesman for Yitzhar, a Palestinian man infiltrated the settlement at 6:40 Saturday morning and broke into the home of a family that was away for Shabbat. When he saw that no one was there he set fire to the house.
The infiltrator then tried to enter a second home through the window. A woman who lived in the house heard him at the window and quickly tried to close the blinds. He tried to push the window open anyway, but she was able to get the blinds down and stop him from entering, said Amitai.
The Palestinian then saw Tuvia Shtatman walking on his way to synagogue and stabbed him five times, according to Amitai. He said the boy fought back and tried to grab the knife but that the Palestinian picked him up and threw him in the direction of a nearby ravine.
The man then fled back to the nearby village of Asira el-Kibliyeh, Amitai said.
Soldiers under Col. Itzik Bar, commander of the Samaria Brigade, imposed a curfew on the village, began searching for the stabber and securing the infiltrated settlement.
The boy was evacuated to the Schneider Medical Center, where he was admitted with what were called "moderate wounds."
Two hours later, several dozen settlers descended the mountain atop which Yitzhar is located and raided Asira el-Kibliyeh, marching through the streets, shooting in the air, smashing windows and overturning a car.
Soldiers tried to stop the violence and confiscated two weapons from the settlers, but no arrests were made.
Asira el-Kibliyeh Mayor Hosni Sharaf said the settler rampage continued for close to three hours. Six Palestinians were wounded.
IDF sources dismissed claims that soldiers stood by during the settler intrusion and said troops were busy searching for the attacker and securing Yitzhar when the settler violence began.
One officer said border policemen were immediately summoned to the village to restore order but that the force's first priority was ensuring that there were no more terrorists inside Yitzhar.
Yitzhar residents said soldiers had spotted the attacker on his way into the settlement but did not stop him.
A top officer in the brigade rejected this accusation and said the attacker was spotted on his way out of the settlement, before the attack was reported, and was not carrying a weapon.
"Palestinians are always in the area and there was no reason to suspect that this one was any different," the officer said.
The attacker had not been captured at press time.
Yitzhar is a center for radical settler ideology and in recent weeks residents have clashed with soldiers deployed nearby.
Saturday was not the first time settlers have entered Asira el-Kibliyeh. Several weeks ago, a group went house to house, spray-painting Stars of David on the walls.
Asira el-Kibliyeh resident Ahmed Daoud said settlers broke windows in his house and shot at water tanks on his roof. He said he, his children and a neighbor threw stones from the roof to try to drive the assailants away.
Sharaf said that in all, two villagers were hit by live fire and four by rubber bullets. The army said soldiers fired neither live ammunition nor rubber bullets and that any Palestinian casualties were caused by the settlers.
Senior IDF officers in the Central Command said their hands were tied when dealing with the settler violence and that the Israel Police was responsible for arresting and charging Jewish law-breakers.
"The police is weak and it needs to increase its manpower involved in these types of investigations in the West Bank," an officer said. "The IDF cannot stop this on its own."
In an unrelated incident Saturday, Palestinians said soldiers shot dead a Palestinian teenager during clashes near Bethlehem.
The IDF said troops fired one live round and used crowd-dispersal equipment after they were attacked by a violent crowd, but could not say for certain what caused the fatal wound.
Medics at Beit Jala Hospital said 16-year-old Hassan Hmeid was shot in the chest.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.