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(photo credit: AP [file])
In yet another outburst of settler violence, masked settlers near Maon in the southern Hebron Hills threw stones at a group of Palestinian school children as they were returning to their homes on Saturday with an IDF escort. Reservists accompanying the children from Hirbat Atswan got out of the jeep and formed a barrier to prevent them from being hit by the stones.
Soldiers then pursued the masked settlers, who fled towards Maon. At the entrance gate, settlers, who called the soldiers "Nazis" and other insults, barred them from entering the settlement.
Describing the incident as serious, the army said that details were handed over to the police for investigation. Meanwhile soldiers will continue escorting the Palestinian school children, the army said.
Last week, the IDF pulled a paratrooper company out of Yitzhar after soldiers guarding the settlement were subjected to numerous attacks by settlers from the community. Military sources in Central Command said the decision to pull the soldiers out on Thursday came after a spate of recent verbal and physical attacks on soldiers guarding the settlement.
In recent months there has been a sharp increase in settler violence directed at members of the security forces. Last Wednesday, ten masked settlers attacked a soldier guarding Yitzhar, assaulted him physically and verbally, pushed him to the ground, and stole his communication radio set. Following a dialogue between settler leaders and IDF commanders, the radio set was eventually returned.
Hours prior to that incident, four wheels of the local commander's jeep were punctured by settlers from the community. Last November, settlers in Yitzhar caused $30,000 worth of damage to electronic surveillance equipment installed by the army to enhance the settlers' security.
Despite the decision to pull out the company guarding the settlement, the army will continue to protect the settlers by conducting patrols in the area, and will continue to man a nearby surveillance position, IDF sources said.
In April last year, a Border Police company was given the responsibility of patrolling Yitzhar in order to enforce law and order and prevent unprovoked attacks by Jewish extremists on both
Israeli security forces and Palestinian civilians. OC Central Command Maj. Gen Yair Naveh and Judea and Samaria Police Commander Yisrael Yitzhak made the decision, after the army was forced to remove a paratrooper base in the settlement after settlers attacked soldiers, punctured IDF vehicles, and cut off the water supply. Months later, however, the IDF company was reinstated and resumed guarding the settlement.