JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Jewish settlers widened their protests on Sunday against a temporary construction freeze by shooting at a Palestinian home, torching and stoning vehicles, and assaulting Israeli officers in separate West Bank incidents.
Israeli police arrested at least two settlers accused of trying to block security officers from enforcing the limited 10-month building ban Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pitched as an attempt to resume U.S.-sponsored peace talks.
Netanyahu, seeking to calm the atmosphere, appealed to settlers in broadcast remarks to abide by the cabinet decision of last month, and reiterated a pledge to promptly resume construction in the enclaves once the suspension was over.
“This is a one time decision and it is temporary. It is not an unlimited freeze,” Netanyahu told a weekly meeting of government ministers, trying also to quash a brewing rebellion in his right-wing Likud party against the freeze.
Jewish settlers who see the West Bank as a biblical birthright have mounted an effort to thwart the freeze by blocking government inspectors from entering settlements.
Settlers torched two tractors, two automobiles, and damaged a Palestinian home in the village of Ein Aboun near Nablus before dawn, a Palestinian man, Abdallah A’llan, said. He said a settler opened fire when he went to a window to see what was going on, but caused no injury.
Israeli police said they were investigating complaints of vandalism in the village, and a security source said Israel suspected Jewish settlers were responsible.
Separately, a few dozen settlers tried to block Israeli military officers from entering the Kedumim enclave near Nablus to issue stop-work orders on construction, and two settlers were arrested after a scuffle ensued, a police spokesman said.
Some protesters threw stones at Palestinian vehicles and blocked a highway after that incident, witnesses said.
Despite settler protests, some analysts thought the freeze would have a minimal political impact on Netanyahu’s government, citing its limited scope, and a permit for some 3,000 settler homes already under construction to continue being built. “They aren’t really freezing all construction, it’s a strange kind of freeze,” Haim Ramon, a former cabinet minister of the centrist Kadima party told Army Radio, adding Israel had to impose a permanent freeze in order for peace talks to resume. But the violence has also sparked concern for Netanyahu’s security. Cabinet minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of the left-of-centre Labour party recalled the 1995 assassination of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, shot by an ultranationalist Israeli opposed to his peace talks. “If it happened once it could happen again,” Ben-Eliezer told the radio. “I suggest people look around and try to muzzle it,” he said.
Netanyahu, who also faced protests from hardliners inside his right-wing Likud party, told his cabinet the settlement freeze showed Israel, not Palestinians, sought peace. “It made it clear to anyone to whom it wasn’t clear before, who is the one who wants peace and who is now acting as a refuser of peace,” Netanyahu said, alluding to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas wants a full settlement freeze that includes East Jerusalem as a condition for resuming peace talks suspended since December.