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Israeli settlers attacks against Palestinians in West Bank tripled in 2018: Report

Haaretz says 482 incidents, including damaging homes, cars and farmers' trees, reported by mid-December, compared to 140 for 2017
The phrase "Jews rise up" was spray-painted in Hebrew on a car in the Palestinian village of Yasuf in December (Screengrab)

Violence by Jewish settlers and right-wing activists against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank tripled last year, with 482 such incidents reported by mid-December, compared to 140 for 2017.

In addition to beating up and throwing stones at Palestinians, more frequently the offences consisted of painting nationalist and anti-Arab or anti-Muslim slogans, damaging homes and cars and cutting down trees belonging to Palestinian farmers, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

Such incidents decreased sharply in 2016 and 2017 from previous years, with the decline attributed to the response of the authorities after the firebombing of a home in the West Bank village of Duma.

Saad and Riham Dawabsheh and their 18-month-old baby, Ali, were killed in that attack, while the couple's four-year-old son, Ahmed, was the sole survivor.

After the attack the Shin Bet security service arrested several extremist right-wing activists living in the northern West Bank who were suspected of involvement in violence and incitement to violence against Arabs.

A series of actions taken during that time - including detention without charges, restraining orders keeping suspects out of the West Bank and in a few cases the granting of permission to interrogate suspects using harsh methods - enabled the authorities to crack a number of cases, according to Haaretz, which acted as a deterrent and brought down the rate of violence against Palestinians.

However, over the past year, after the activists were released, as well as due to the rise of new, younger groups, violent acts increased once again.

Revenge attacks

Haaretz said the rise in the number of violent incidents also seems connected to a desire for revenge by Israelis after Palestinian attacks.

Such incidents increased after two attacks early last year and again after the murder of two Israelis in an attack in the Barkan industrial zone in October.

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A few days after the murder at Barkan, Aisha al-Rabi, a Palestinian mother-of-seven, was killed near Nablus by stones thrown by Israeli settlers at the car in which she was travelling.

On Sunday, it was reported that five Jewish seminary students had been arrested in connection with Rabi's death.

In another case, a failed attempt was made to set fire to a mosque.

'Price tag' attacks

After a string of violent incidents that occurred in the West Bank last month, Israeli settlers have increased their use of so-called price tag attacks and blocked roads across the territory.

Local media and activists have reported several incidents on roads in the Ramallah and Nablus areas, where settlers have ambushed Palestinian drivers, hurling rocks at their vehicles and causing damage and injuring drivers and passengers.

Hebrew posters have also appeared in the Nablus-area town of Huwwara, which is surrounded by several illegal Israeli settlements, calling for the death of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is labelled as a "supporter of terrorists".

Last month, Palestinians in the village of Yasuf woke to find their car tyres slashed and homes covered in racist, Hebrew-language graffiti, in what residents told Middle East Eye they believe was an attack by Israeli settlers.

Nashaat Abed al-Fattah, Yasuf's 37-year-old mayor, told MEE that a group of Israeli settlers raided the village before dawn.

"They slashed the tyres of 24 vehicles and sprayed graffiti on many homes, including mine, as well as the village mosque," he said.

"Price tag", "Revenge" and "Death to Arabs" were among some of the messages spray-painted on homes throughout the village, Abed al-Fattah said.

'Hilltop youth'

On Friday, the UN condemned the throwing of stones at the Palestinian prime minister on Christmas Day, allegedly by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, calling it "absolutely unacceptable".

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah's convoy was hit with a number of stones on 25 December as he was returning home from attending Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem, a Palestinian government spokesman said.

Two of Hamadallah's bodyguards were wounded, the spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

Regarding the tripling in the number of attacks last year, Haaretz reported that defence officials said that the most extreme group of right-wing activists, the "hilltop youth," most of whom live in West Bank outposts, are estimated to number about 300.

Out of these, a few dozen are suspected of involvement in violence.

The majority of the suspects are quite young, 15 or 16.

Most of last year's violent acts were allegedly committed in the area of outposts in the Shiloh Valley area between Ramallah and Nablus, near the illegal settlements of Yitzhar near Nablus and around the evacuated outpost of Amona near Ramallah.