West Bank Attack Kills 2 Israelis as Middle East Officials Meet in Jordan
JERUSALEM — Hours after a Palestinian gunman fatally shot two Israeli brothers as they drove through a town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Sunday, Jewish settlers went on a rampage in the area to avenge the killings, stoning and burning dozens of Palestinian homes, stores and cars.
The shooting occurred early Sunday afternoon on a road south of the city of Nablus even as Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab officials were participating in a summit in Jordan, along with senior U.S. representatives, to discuss ways to de-escalate rising tensions.
After nightfall, with the summit concluded, settlers held marches in the same area as the shooting and began attacking Palestinians and their property. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that one man, Sameh Aqtash, 37, had been killed by live fire as a result of Israeli “aggression.”
The ministry said several more Palestinians were injured and about 20 were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and tear gas.
By evening, the Israeli security forces appeared to be still struggling to contain the outburst of violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the settlers to allow the security forces to focus on pursuing the Palestinian gunman, who fled the scene of the attack.
“I ask — even when the blood is boiling — not to take the law into one’s hands,” Mr. Netanyahu pleaded in a video statement released on Sunday night.
The Israeli military said that its soldiers, together with Israeli Fire and Rescue Services, Border Police and additional Israeli security forces, were handling what it described as “violent riots.” Settlers stoned a Palestinian fire crew, injuring two, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
The events on the ground overshadowed the one-day meeting in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba, described by the hosts as the first of its kind in many years. At its conclusion, the Jordanian government and the U.S. State Department issued a joint statement saying the Israeli and Palestinian sides had reaffirmed their commitment to all previous agreements, as well as to the need to prevent further violence.
Attended by senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt, as well as representatives of the Biden administration, the meeting reflected a level of pragmatism on the part of Israel’s two-month-old government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in the country’s history. It also showed Washington’s desire for agreements that might help prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.
A New Surge of Israeli-Palestinian Violence
A recent spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has stoked fears that tensions may further escalate.
But Sunday’s violence only served to underscore the challenges, and there were few signs of significant progress — beyond the fact that the sides had met. Jordan said the five parties had agreed to meet again next month, in Egypt.
The killing of the Israeli brothers, which the Israeli government described as a Palestinian terrorist attack, came four days after a deadly Israeli military raid in Nablus. The army said the raid was aimed at arresting Palestinian gunmen from a local group that was responsible for killing an Israeli soldier in October and that was planning more attacks.
The brothers shot to death on Sunday were identified by the Israeli military as Hillel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 20, both residents of Har Bracha, a Jewish settlement in the hills above Nablus. Hillel Yaniv was a staff sergeant who served in the Israeli Navy and was in a study program at a religious seminary at the time he was killed. His younger brother, Yagel, was also studying in a religious seminary.
The gunman rammed the brothers’ car at a junction along the main road leading to Nablus and shot them at close range, according to images from the scene, witnesses and media reports.
The first two months of 2023 have been among the deadliest in years for both Palestinians and Israelis, the result of a sharp increase in daytime military raids as well as from a spate of terrorist attacks. The rising violence is what prompted the summit in Jordan ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in less than four weeks.
In the past, Ramadan has been a time of heightened tensions and emotions that has a times led to broader Israeli-Palestinian conflagrations.
About 60 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank in the past two months, most of them during raids and shootouts with the Israeli military. The attack on Sunday brought the number of Israelis killed this year by Palestinians to 13. Seven of them were killed in a mass shooting in late January, the day after an Israeli Army raid left 10 Palestinians dead in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
The raid on Wednesday in Nablus set off a four-hour gunfight with Palestinian groups that left eight Palestinian militants and two bystanders dead, according to Palestinian officials. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that a third Palestinian civilian, a 66-year-old man, died at a hospital hours later after inhaling tear gas.
Israeli raids are often followed by reprisals from lone Palestinian gunmen, and Palestinian attacks on Israelis often prompt a spike in violence by settlers against Palestinians and their property.
Friction in the region has only intensified since Israel’s new right-wing government came to power at the end of 2022, which was also a bloody year, with the rise of local Palestinian armed groups and a wave of attacks against Israelis in the spring. The new government supports ultimately annexing all of the territory of the West Bank and has promised a more aggressive approach toward Palestinian assailants.
On Sunday, an Israeli parliamentary committee controlled by the government advanced a bill calling for Israeli courts to be able to impose the death penalty on people convicted of murder in cases of political violence against Israeli citizens. The bill was sponsored by Jewish Power, a party in the governing coalition led by an ultranationalist, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister for national security, who was convicted in the past for incitement of anti-Arab racism and support for a terrorist group.
In the statement issued on Sunday, Jordan and the United States said that Israel had committed not to discuss the construction of new settlement houses for a period of four months, and not to authorize any new settlement outposts for a period of six months. But Mr. Netanyahu’s office already announced a week ago that it had informed the United States that it would hold off authorizing any more Jewish settlement outposts in the coming months.
That announcement explicitly excluded the 10 outposts that the Israeli government had just days earlier said that it was working to authorize. The government has promised to grant retroactive authorization to dozens of outposts that were erected without government permission in the occupied West Bank, some of them decades ago.
The Israeli government has also pledged to go ahead with the construction of nearly 10,000 new settlement housing units that were approved in recent days. Most countries consider all the settlements to be a violation of international law.
Militant Islamic groups in Gaza have fired several rockets into southern Israeli airspace in recent weeks in response to Palestinian deaths, and Israel has retaliated by striking targets in Gaza.
Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, portrayed Sunday’s shooting as a “natural reaction” to Israel’s operations, including the raid in Nablus last week. Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant faction, said the shooting was in line with its promise to avenge the killing of its commanders there.
Both groups said they would continue to resist the Israeli occupation regardless of the summit in Jordan.
Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel. Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nablus in the West Bank.