Tensions high in West Bank: At least 16 Palestinians were injured Wednesday morning during a clash which broke out between settlers and residents of the West Bank village of Khirbat Safa, near the Bat Ayin settlement. An Israeli citizen was lightly hurt in the incident.
Last Thursday, a 13-year-old youth was killed in a terror attack in the Gush Etzion community. His family ended its seven days of mourning Wednesday morning.
The incident began as a number of Bat Ayin residents were holding the Blessing of the Sun on Mukhtar Hill, which is located between their Gush Eztion community and the village of Khribet Safa, near Beit Omar.
According to the settlers, at a certain stage several Palestinians arrived at the area and began clashing with them and hurling stones. One person was lightly injured in the head and treated on site. According to the Palestinians, the settlers fired in the air and damaged property.
IDF forces dispatched to the area in order to disperse the crowd opened fire. According to the Palestinians, the soldiers failed to do anything to stop the firing and rioting. The Palestinians further claimed that the security forces were making it difficult to transfer the injured to hospitals.
According to Palestinian sources and hospitals in the Hebron area, 16 people were injured in the incident, one of them sustaining critical wounds. Dozens suffered from smoke inhalation.
The IDF appealed to settler leaders to try and calm things down. Simultaneously, the Civil Administration inquired whether Palestinian medical teams were in need of aid.
However, the Palestinians claimed that settlers were still rioting on the premises and that IDF soldiers were still using tear gas on the crowd, as well as firing on it. Local mosques reportedly broadcast calls for help.
The IDF said in a statement, "The force dispatched to the area in order to separate between the sides used crowd dispersal means against the Palestinians. When the stone throwing became particularly massive, the force's commander ordered his soldiers to fire at the lower part of the body of the main inciters."
Army officials noted that according to Palestinian reports, four people were injured by gunshots in the lower part of their bodies and several others inhaled smoke. The investigation into the incident continues.
A resident of Beit Omar told Ynet that according to his relatives and reports from local mosques, at least 30 armed settlers attacked houses and cars, assaulted residents and fired in the air. He added that the residents were also facing soldiers and police officers firing tear gas at them.
The Palestinians added that ambulance were standing at the entrance to Khirbat Safa and were unable to get in. "There is a lot of smoke in the air and shouting, but the extent of the damage is unclear to the residents who shut themselves up in their houses. I heard that at least 10 people have been injured."
Fear of acts of revenge
Last week, a Palestinian assailant entered Bat Ayin with an axe, killed 13-year-old Shlomo Nativ and lightly injured a seven-year-old boy. Following the attack, the IDF held an extensive search in the area, but failed to locate the attacker. During the search, the forces encircled a house in Khirba Safa.
Following the attack, several officials expressed their fear that the settlement's residents would seek revenge. According to the community's rabbi, however, the settles did not discuss this possibility.
"I didn't see any anger. I saw pain. The only response to the murder of our sons is to add one community after another and cause deterrence. I don't know what is going on in my friends' hearts, I'm not God, but I believe everyone agrees about this. I did not hear one word about taking revenge," Rabbi Daniel Cohen told Ynet.
According to the Palestinians, the riots began on Monday night, when armed settlers arrived at the village, caused damage to their homes and fired in the air. The IDF said it had searched the area following a complaint of gunshots fired in the air, near the entrance to Khirbat Safa.
Bat Ayin settlers rejected the report. "This is complete nonsense. It never happened," said the community's security officer, Yaakov Morag.
Efrat Weiss contributed to this report