Jewish settlers erect religious school in evacuated West Bank outpost after Israel repeals ban


Tel Aviv (AP) — Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank said Monday they erected a religious school in a dismantled outpost after Israel’s government lifted a ban on settlements in several evacuated areas in the northern part of the territory.

Also Monday, a Palestinian militant died after being shot by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said, the latest bloodshed in a wave of violence.

The school was built Sunday in Homesh, one of four West Bank outposts evacuated as part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In March, Israel’s far-right government repealed a 2005 act that evacuated the four outposts and barred Israelis from reentering the areas.

Anti-settlement groups say more settlement construction in those areas further dims any hopes for a contiguous, independent Palestinian state. The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has also said it is “deeply troubled” by Israeli plans to revive the outpost.

Video on social media showed settler leaders dedicating the religious school, a single-floor structure, with a prayer and saying they hoped to rebuild the other evacuated settlements as well.

Homesh has been at the center of settler efforts to deepen Israel’s hold on the northern West Bank. Settlers have long maintained a presence in the outpost despite the 2005 act, setting up tents and other structures on the foundations of former homes. The military at times demolished those structures, but it largely ignored the settlers existence at the outpost, which was built on private Palestinian land.

Israel’s government has made settlement building one of its top priorities. The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is made up of ultranationalist settler supporters, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has some authority over West Bank settlements. Israeli Army Radio reported the Homesh religious seminary was built with approval from Smotrich and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, but that it skirted the regular building approval process in the West Bank.

Government members praised the new construction. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a key government member and a settler himself, said it was “an exciting historic moment.”

The military said it operated according to government decisions. A spokeswoman for Gallant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel’s intentions at Homesh and the other three settlements dismantled in 2005 have drawn repeated rebukes from Washington, which has said it is “deeply troubled” by moves to resettle the area. Most of the international community consider Israeli settlements, home to 700,000 people in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, to be illegal and obstacles to peace.

The construction at Homesh comes at a time of soaring violence between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, much of it concentrated in the northern part of the territory.

In Jenin, a major flashpoint for violence over the last year, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces killed 37-year-old Ashraf Mohammed Ibrahim. The Israeli military said forces on an arrest raid came under heavy fire and fired back. Ibrahim, an officer of the Palestinian security forces, was identified as a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant group loosely linked to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

Increased fighting over the last year between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank has resulted in the deadliest period of violence between the sides in years in that territory. During that time, some 260 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. Israel says most have been militants but stone-throwing youths and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.

Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 50 people since early 2022.

Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for state.

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