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US urges Israel to hold settlers accountable for 'vigilante violence'

The State Department condemned the recent shootings of Israelis as well as the deadly rampage carried out by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
An Israeli settler (R) argues with an Israeli soldier along a road in the town of Huwara.

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Monday urged Israel to hold accountable the scores of settlers who indiscriminately torched Palestinian property in retaliation for the shooting deaths of two Israelis over the weekend. 

Less than a month after Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel and the Palestinian territories to press for calm, the West Bank is experiencing another uptick in violence. 

The latest tensions were triggered Sunday by a suspected Palestinian gunman’s killing of two Israeli brothers in a drive-by shooting in the town of Huwara, a Palestinian town south of Nablus in the West Bank. The brothers, Hillel Menachem Yaniv and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv, were from the nearby settlement of Har Bracha. 

Hours after the shooting, Israeli settlers carried out a deadly rampage in Huwara and other nearby towns. The settlers reportedly set fire to dozens of Palestinian homes, buildings and cars in riots that killed a Palestinian man identified as 37-year-old Samih al-Aqtash. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 300 others were injured in the rampage, many from tear gas fired by Israeli Border Police. 

The Palestinian-Israeli unrest showed few signs of slowing on Monday. Suspected Palestinian gunmen fatally shot a 27-year-old Israeli-American motorist before fleeing the scene near the West Bank town of Jericho. 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the “horrific” shootings of Israelis as well as the “vigilante violence” against Palestinians. 

“We expect the Israeli government to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these attacks, in addition to compensation for the lost homes and property,” Price told reporters. 

Price welcomed statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog that urged Israelis not to take law enforcement into their own hands. 

“Accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence and equal resources dedicated to prevent such attacks and bringing those responsible to justice,” Price added. 

The latest violence came as officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the United States held a rare meeting in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba on Sunday to discuss ways of de-escalating tensions, including through Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on security. 

A joint communique published by the State Department on Sunday said Israeli officials agreed to halt approvals of new settlement units for the next four months and stop the authorization of any outposts for six months.  

But Netanyahu was quick to deny any such commitments were made, tweeting Sunday that there would be no freeze in Israeli settlement activity. Price declined to comment directly on Netanyahu’s comments. 

“We think the statement speaks for itself,” Price said. “Just as we expect the Palestinians to live up to their commitments, we expect the Israelis to do the same.” 

At the request of the United Arab Emirates, the UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency session on Tuesday to address the bloodshed. The UN’s most powerful body was set to vote earlier this month on an Emirati-drafted resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity but following US pressure adopted a watered-down statement on the settlements. 

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