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Four Israelis detained under controversial measure: official

Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi inspects damage in the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya after the attack by Jewish settlers
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Four Israelis suspected of committing violence against Palestinians last week in the occupied West Bank have been detained under a controversial security measure, a senior security official said Wednesday.

In a rare move, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant issued administrative arrest warrants against them, a measure usually reserved for Palestinians.

Administrative detention is a controversial measure under which suspects are held without charge or trial for renewable periods of up to six months.

The four detainees are suspected of taking part in violence in the West Bank last week and of "endangering the lives of innocent people," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They are also suspected of damaging Palestinian property and setting cars on fire.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and, excluding annexed east Jerusalem, the territory is now home to around 490,000 Israelis who live in settlements considered illegal under international law.

Violence has been increasing in the territory since early last year, and last week's unrest occurred shortly after two Palestinians shot dead four Israelis near the Jewish settlement of Eli in the northern West Bank. The assailants were later shot dead.

- Army 'failed' -

The Palestinians' attack was in response to a deadly raid carried out the day before by the Israeli army in Jenin, according to the Palestinian Hamas movement.

After the attack near Eli, hundreds of Jewish settlers swept into the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya, where they attacked residents and torched property and cars.

One Palestinian was shot dead in ensuing clashes with Israeli forces.

Jewish settlers also torched cars in Turmus Ayya, after Palestinian attackers shot dead four Israelis near Eli settlement in the occupied West Bank

The Israeli army acknowledged on Friday it "failed" to prevent the attack by Jewish settlers.

At the time, the United States called reports of the attack "troubling", and United Nations Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland on Tuesday said he was "particularly alarmed by the extreme levels of settler violence."

The four detainees were also found to be involved in several "overt and covert violent acts for several years," the official said, adding they had been issued restraining orders in the past.

Some had in the past also "acted against IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers and security forces," the official said.

Despite their past arrests and restraining orders, they are suspected of dangerous acts of vandalism against Palestinian property "on a number of occasions last week," the senior security official said.

Three of the detainees were arrested on June 22, the day following the Turmus Ayya attack, and the fourth on June 23.

Israel says administrative detention is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing attacks or security offences in the meantime.

The practice has often been used against Palestinians, and Israeli authorities have come under severe criticism from Palestinians, human rights groups, and members of the international community for abusing the measure.

Since the start of the year, at least 176 Palestinians, 25 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian have been killed in violence linked to the conflict, according to an AFP tally compiled from official Israeli and Palestinian sources.

These statistics include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, including minors, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians, including minors, and three members of the Arab minority.