The Palestinian Authority asked for international protection Monday citing a sharp rise in Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
The call came after three Israelis from the Havat Maon settlement allegedly stabbed and seriously injured 33-year-old Mahmud Ibrahim Awad of Khirbat Tuba, a tiny village south of the West Bank city of Hebron, as he was walking home Monday morning. Awad was stabbed in the head, chest and arm.
In another incident, Israeli settlers allegedly opened fire at Palestinians during a funeral in the village of Beit Ommar, north of Hebron, injuring two people. One of them, a 59-year-old, was reported in critical condition. The second suffered injuries in the leg.
The Israeli army, which maintains a presence nearby because the village is on a road often used by settlers, intervened, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the settlers after the shooting.
Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority media center, issued a statement holding the Israeli government responsible for what he called "serious and systematic escalation" in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.
Khatib called for "urgent international protection to prevent further crimes against the civilians."
Palestinians say attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank have escalated since the bloody slaying of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar last week.
No one has been arrested yet in connection with the Itamar killings, but Israeli officials and news media blamed Palestinian militants, resulting, Palestinians say, in revenge attacks by settlers. The Israeli government has placed a gag order on the investigation, after rumors that Thai and Filipino guest workers had been rounded up for questioning in the attack.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who strongly denounced the Itamar slayings, also denounced the assumption that a Palestinian was responsible, accusing Israel of convicting Palestinians before the truth behind the crime was known.
"There is an insistence on blaming the Palestinian people before the investigation had revealed the truth about who the killer was," Abbas said, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. "I do not know why this persistence and why they insist on this position even though the facts are not yet known."
Abbas said "there are daily crimes committed by Israeli settlers" against Palestinian civilians, yet no one seems to be talking about them. "Our villages are being attacked on a daily basis, and so our mosques and our homes and our olive trees are cut down," he said. "Israel and the international community should take note of that."
In its weekly Protection of Civilians report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory recorded 32 incidents in which by settlers caused damage to Palestinian property, including one incident that left eight Palestinians injured.
It said that in the immediate aftermath of the Itamar killings, Israeli settlers rioted in the West Bank village of Awarta, the closest to the settlement, setting fire to tires and assaulting an 18-year-old Palestinian. Additionally, incidents of settler stone-throwing and vandalism were reported in the Ramallah, Nablus, Kalkiliya and Hebron areas of the West Bank, resulting in 13 Palestinian injuries and damage to many vehicles, homes and other private and commercial structures, OCHA said.
OCHA noted that in the days before the killings in Itamar there had already been a sharp increase in the number of settler attacks against Palestinians, beginning March 3 when Israeli settlers held a “day of rage” to protest the Israeli army demolition of a number of unauthorized structures in the Havat Gilad settlement outpost. Settlers rioted and blocked major roads and intersections across the West Bank in what they described as payback in the "price tag" policy targeting Palestinian civilians and property to protest the Israeli army's removal of their illegal outposts.
OCHA said that during the first two weeks of March there were 10 incidents involving Israeli settlers that resulted in 15 injuries to Palestinians, and 34 additional incidents resulting in damage to Palestinian property.
— Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photo: Israeli soldiers and Palestinian medics treat Mahmud Ibrahim Awad, 33, after he was allegedly attacked by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Yatta, near the Jewish settlement of Mahon, in the occupied West Bank. Credit: Abed al Hashlamoun / Reuters