Israeli settlers march in West Bank amid wave of unrest
BURQA, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of Israelis marched to a dismantled settlement deep in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday and called for it to be rebuilt in a show of strength amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian unrest and fears of further escalation.
The army blocked roads to facilitate the march led by hard-line Jewish settlers and prevent Palestinians from reaching the area. Dozens of Palestinian residents protested the closures. Clashes broke out, with Israeli soldiers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at Palestinian youths hurling stones and burning tires.
Palestinian medics said they treated at least eight Palestinians who were struck 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 emerged as a symbol of settler defiance after the government dismantled it in 2005.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have surged in recent weeks after a series of deadly attacks inside Israel and 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 flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem.
The unrest has raised fears of a repeat of last year, when protests and clashes in Jerusalem helped ignite an 11-day Gaza war.
The shrine, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound 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 rock-throwing and that it is committed to ensuring that Jews, Christians and Muslims can worship freely in the Holy Land. The Palestinians view the presence of Israeli security forces at Al-Aqsa and visits by nationalist and religious Jews as a provocation.
Israel has faced intense criticism from Jordan, which serves as custodian of the site, as well as Egypt — Arab states that made peace with Israel decades ago. The United Arab Emirates, which led the way in normalizing relations with Israel as part of the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020, summoned the recently appointed Israeli ambassador on Tuesday.
The UAE said Israel needs to “fully protect worshippers, to respect the rights of Palestinians to practice their religious rites and to stop any practices that violate the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” according to a statement carried by the state-run WAM news agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he discussed the violence in a telephone call with Israel’s largely ceremonial 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 muted statement for Erdogan, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in the past. Turkey, whose economy is in crisis, has been trying to normalize its frayed ties with Israel and other regional countries.
Herzog visited Turkey last month, becoming the first Israeli leader to visit in 14 years.
The U.N. Security Council emerged from a closed-door session Tuesday with no unanimous message on the tensions, though envoys from Ireland, France, Estonia, Norway and Albania stood together to express concern. They called for respecting arrangements at holy sites and for restraint from both sides, while condemning rocket fire from Gaza and “all acts of terrorism.”
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has also called on all sides to exercise restraint.
At the march in the occupied West Bank, several thousand Israelis, including young children, walked roughly two kilometers (one mile) to Homesh, where organizers staged festivities attended by religious nationalist politicians and rabbis.
The Israeli military didn’t formally authorize the march but closed roads to separate the settlers and Palestinians, allowing it to be held.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and in the decades since has built dozens of settlements that are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinians seek the territory, which is home to nearly 3 million Palestinians, as the main part of a future independent state.
Most of the international community considers the settlements to be illegal. Israel views the West Bank as the historical and biblical heartland of the Jewish people. The peace process ground to a halt more than a decade ago.
The settlement of Homesh was built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and was dismantled in 2005. In the years since, Israeli settlers have staged several marches, rallies and attempts to rebuild it in violation of Israeli law and 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 at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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