Thousands of Israelis march to illegal West Bank outpost as tensions mount


Jerusalem (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis, including ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, marched to an evacuated Jewish outpost in the West Bank on Monday in support of settlements viewed as illegal under international law.

As tensions mounted between Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis from across the country travelled to the outpost of Evyatar while waving Israeli flags and chanting religious songs and slogans during the holiday week of Passover.

Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in nearby Beita, injuring 17 people with rubber bullets and two with gas canisters to the head, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

More than 90 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners have been killed since January.

In a statement, the Samaria regional council representing settlers of the northern West Bank quoted Yossi Dagan, its leader, as having told participants that settlements were the answer to what he called a wave of terror.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right security chief in Netanyahu’s cabinet, said at the Israeli demonstration: “Now they understand why I have been pushing for the establishment of a national guard.”

Flanked by heavy guard on Monday, Ben-Gvir last week was authorised to head a national guard focused on Arab unrest.

Netanyahu held off giving him direct command after political rivals voiced concern the force could become a sectarian militia.

Many countries view Jewish settlements in the West Bank, captured from Jordan in a 1967 war, as a breach of international law. Israel disputes this and cites biblical and historical connections to the land, as well as security needs.

The mother of two Israeli sisters who were killed last week in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank died of her wounds, hospital officials said on Monday. All three were dual citizens of Israel and Britain.

“Tragic news that Leah Dee has also died following the abhorrent attacks in the West Bank,” British foreign minister James Cleverly on Twitter. “There can be no justification for the murder of Leah and her two daughters, Maia and Rina.”

Israeli forces were still trying to track down the assailant.

The far-right Israeli government, which took office in late December, supports recognition and expansion of Jewish settlements in West Bank lands where Palestinians envisage a future independent state.

Last month, the Israeli parliament paved the way for Jewish settlers’ return to four settlements in the West Bank by amending a 2005 law that ordered their evacuation, a move condemned by the Palestinian Authority and the European Union.

In February, Israel granted retroactive recognition to eight illegal West Bank outposts, also condemned by international organizations. These did not include Evyatar.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has established around 140 settlements on land Palestinians see as the core of a future state. Besides the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission.

U.S.-sponsored statehood talks have been stalled since 2014 while Jewish settlements have expanded.

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