Israeli settlers march in West Bank amid wave of unrest
BURQA, West Bank
Thousands of Israelis marched to a dismantled settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank on Tuesday and called for its reconstruction in a show of force amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian unrest and fears of further escalation.
The army blocked roads to facilitate the march led by extremist Jewish settlers and prevent Palestinians from reaching the area. Dozens of Palestinian residents protested the closures. Clashes erupted, with Israeli soldiers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at Palestinian youths, throwing rocks and burning tires.
Palestinian doctors said they treated at least eight Palestinians who were hit by rubber bullets or tear gas canisters fired by Israeli troops in the adjacent West Bank village of Burqa.
Israelis have repeatedly returned to Homesh, a hilltop settlement that became a symbol of settler defiance after it was dismantled by the government in 2005.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have risen in recent weeks after a series of deadly attacks inside Israel and military operations in the West Bank. Palestinian militants fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel for the first time in months, and Israel carried out airstrikes, after days of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at a site sacred in Jerusalem.
The unrest has raised fears of a repeat of last year, when protests and clashes in Jerusalem helped spark an 11-day war in Gaza.
The shrine, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is the emotional epicenter of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel said its security forces entered the site in response to Palestinian stone-throwing and pledged to ensure Jews, Christians and Muslims can practice freely in the Holy Land. Palestinians view the presence of Israeli security forces in Al-Aqsa and visits by nationalist and religious Jews as a provocation.
Israel has faced intense criticism from Jordan, which is the site’s custodian, as well as Egypt, Arab states that made peace with Israel decades ago. The United Arab Emirates, which paved the way for normalizing relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020, summoned Israel’s newly appointed ambassador on Tuesday.
The UAE said Israel must “fully protect worshipers, respect the rights of Palestinians to practice their religious rites and end any practice that violates the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque”, according to a statement released by the WAM. Press Agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he discussed the violence in a phone call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
“During this sensitive period, I would like to emphasize, once again, the need not to allow provocations and threats against the status and spirituality of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Erdogan said.
It was an unusually low-key statement for Erdogan, who has been a vocal critic of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians in the past. Turkey, whose economy is in crisis, has tried to normalize its frayed ties with Israel and other countries in the region.
Herzog visited Turkey last month, becoming the first Israeli leader to visit in 14 years.
The UN Security Council emerged from a closed session on Tuesday without a unanimous message on the tensions, although envoys from Ireland, France, Estonia, Norway and Albania met to express their concern. They called for respect for the arrangements at the holy sites and for restraint on both sides, while condemning the firing of rockets from Gaza and “all acts of terrorism”.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, also called on all parties to exercise restraint.
During the march in the occupied West Bank, several thousand Israelis, including young children, marched about two kilometers (one mile) to Homesh, where organizers staged festivities attended by religious nationalist politicians and rabbis .
The Israeli army did not formally authorize the march but closed the roads to separate the settlers and Palestinians, allowing it to take place.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War and over the decades that followed built dozens of settlements that are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis. Palestinians seek the territory, home to nearly 3 million Palestinians, as the main part of a future independent state.
Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal. Israel regards the West Bank as the historical and biblical heart of the Jewish people. The peace process stopped more than a decade ago.
The Homesh settlement was built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and was dismantled in 2005. In the years that followed, Israeli settlers staged several marches, rallies and reconstruction attempts in violation of the law and Israeli military orders.
In December, Palestinian militants killed a Jewish settler near the site of the former settlement. A month earlier, six Palestinian farmers were hospitalized after settlers attacked them with metal batons and stones.
Ben Zion reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Jennifer Peltz of the United Nations contributed to this report.