NABLUS, West Bank (AFP) – Four Palestinians were wounded on Monday in attacks by Jewish settlers incensed at the possibility the state may dismantle outposts in the occupied West Bank, medics and witnesses said.
Dozens of masked Jewish extremists blocked a road west of the city of Nablus in the early hours and hurled rocks at Palestinian drivers who stopped their vehicles to move the obstructions, they said.
“They put stones in the road near the entrance of Qedumim,” an Israeli settlement just west of the northern West Bank city, said Zakaria Sada, an activist with the Rabbis for Human Rights organisation.
“A minibus arrived with 17 Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel. They attacked when the minibus stopped. The man next to the driver was seriously wounded,” he said.
When another driver stopped his vehicle to move the stones in the road, “they attacked the driver and started beating him” until Israeli troops arrived on the scene, Sada said.
In all, four people were wounded in the attacks, and one remained in serious condition in hospital with a fractured skull, medics said.
Groups of settlers converged on the area overnight after rumours spread that Israeli security forces were gathering in the area to evacuate settlement outposts.
“The forces of destruction are on their way,” said an SMS message that circulated in the hardline settler community at 1:00 am (2200 GMT). “Come quickly!”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to dismantle several dozen wildcat outposts — settlements that were erected in the West Bank without government approval — in response to US demands.
In the past few weeks Israeli police have taken down some tents and tin huts in the occupied territory, with the structures usually re-erected within hours after troops leave.
The idea that the government may dismantle the unauthorised outposts has incensed hardline settlers, many of whom live in the mountainous area around Nablus and who believe that the Jewish people have a God-given biblical-era right to live on the land.
The hardliners make up a very vocal and often violent minority of the more than 280,000 Israeli settlers who live in the settlements dotting the West Bank, the larger part of the promised Palestinian state.
The Yesh Din human rights organisation described the incidents as a predictable “wave of Jewish terror sweeping the West Bank.”
“Anyone with a basic understanding of this issue could have predicted that as talks of evacuations of illegal constructions begin, Jewish terror cells will rear their heads and set the West Bank on fire,” it said in a statement.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Arab land illegal, but Israel makes a distinction between those built with or without government approval.