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US 'deeply troubled' by Israel's Homesh settlement order

The State Department also expressed alarm over the visit by right-wing minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to Israel's flashpoint holy site.
Israeli soldiers guard the road leading to the Homesh Yeshiva (religious school), located at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of Nablus, on December 30, 2021.

WASHINGTON — Three Palestinians were killed Monday during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank, a day after the Biden administration signaled its increasing frustration with Israel’s right-wing government

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted a pre-dawn raid on the Balata refugee camp in the city of Nablus, killing three Palestinians whom the army described as suspected terrorists. At least seven other Palestinians were injured in the operation, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday. 

The IDF said it took three suspects into custody. It also seized a number of weapons and located a lab containing explosives that could be used in attacks, the army said. 

Spokesman for the Palestinian presidency Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the death of at least three Palestinians a "massacre” and urged the United States to "immediately intervene to stop the Israeli madness.” 

Monday’s raid came as tensions were already running high in the West Bank. The chief of the Israeli military’s Central Command on Thursday approved an order allowing Israelis to enter the illegal outpost of Homesh, which is located near Nablus in the northern West Bank.

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox’s order followed the Israeli parliament’s vote in March to partially rescind legislation that banned Israelis from entering the area where four settlements, including Homesh, were demolished in 2005. 

In a carefully worded statement Sunday evening, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US government was “deeply troubled” by the Israeli order allowing settlers to establish a permanent presence in Homesh. He noted that Israeli law defines the outpost as built illegally on private Palestinian land. 

“This order is inconsistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon’s written commitment to the Bush administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden administration,” Miller said, adding that settlement expansion on land sought by the Palestinians for a future state is an obstacle to achieving a two-state solution. 

The Homesh decision injects fresh tension into a relationship already strained by the extreme positions held by some of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners. The Netanyahu-led government — Israel’s most right-wing and religious in its history — includes ultranationalist members who have advocated for a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and changing the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Netanyahu’s contentious plan to overhaul Israel’s judiciary drew rare public criticism from President Joe Biden in March. Amid the growing rift, the administration has yet to extend an invitation for Netanyahu to visit the White House, as is customary after the election of an Israeli premier. 

On Sunday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made what the State Department called a “provocative” visit to the site Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. The firebrand ultranationalist minister, who drew outrage for an earlier visit to the site in January, declared Sunday that Israel is “in charge here.”

The 35-acre walled compound, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. The sacred hilltop area is the scene of regular clashes, and in recent years, the Palestinians have accused Israel of violating the prohibition on Jews and Christians praying there. 

Ben-Gvir’s ultranationalist Jewish Power party wants to increase the number of visits of Jewish worshippers to the site, although the Israeli government’s platform calls for the preservation of the historic status quo. 

“This holy space should not be used for political purposes, and we call on all parties to respect its sanctity,” Miller said. 

Ben-Gvir was not among the hundreds of Jewish worshippers who entered the holy site as part of the far-right Flag Day march in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday, marking the unification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War. Ben-Gvir’s wife, Ayala, a known Temple Mount activist, visited the compound ahead of the nationalist march. 

Jordan, which acts as the custodian of the site, called for an emergency session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in response to Ben-Gvir’s visit. Saudi Arabia, which is said to be considering normalization with Israel, was among the Arab countries that condemned the visit. 

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