Geneva (Reuters) – The United Nations rights office on Friday described “alarming” conditions in the occupied West Bank, saying Israeli forces were increasingly using military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations there.
“While much attention has been on the (Hamas) attacks inside Israel and the escalation of hostilities in Gaza since the 7th of October, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is alarming and urgent,” said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
She said at least 132 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been were killed in the West Bank, 124 of those by Israeli forces and some eight by Israeli settlers, since violence there intensified in the wake of Hamas’ assault on Israel from Gaza.
Two Israeli soldiers were also killed.
The Israeli military has reported a sharp increase in operations against militants in the West Bank since the Oct. 7 attack, making some 1,260 arrests, of whom it said some 760 were affiliated with Hamas.
The worsening violence in the West Bank has fuelled concerns that the flashpoint Palestinian territory could become a third front in a wider war, in addition to Israel’s northern border where clashes with Lebanese Hezbollah forces have mounted.
While Hamas and the smaller Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad militant group are mainly based in Gaza, over recent years they have also expanded their presence across the West Bank, notably in volatile cities including Jenin and Nablus.
Throssell said Israeli forces were increasingly using military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations while settler violence against Palestinian inhabitants, which was already at record levels, had “escalated dramatically”.
“We have documented that in many of these incidents, settlers were accompanied by members of the Israeli forces, or the settlers were wearing uniforms and carrying army rifles,” she said.
“Along with the near-total impunity for settler violence, we are concerned that armed settlers have been acting with the acquiescence and collaboration of Israeli forces and authorities.”
Ammar Al-Dwaik, Director General of the Independent Commission of Human Rights of Palestine in Ramallah, seat of the limited Palestinian self-rule authority in the West Bank, said that many people were afraid to venture far from their homes.
“We see increasing numbers of soldiers everywhere. The Israeli army’s treatment of people is becoming more and more aggressive and humiliating,” he told reporters in Geneva via videolink.