A senior Israeli minister has said the Palestinian village of Huwara should be “wiped out” days after far-right settlers went on a rampage in the occupied West Bank villages, torching dozens of houses and cars in the wake of the killing of two Israeli brothers.
“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it,” Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, who also handles civil administration in the occupied West Bank, was quoted as saying by Israeli media on Wednesday.
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The Israeli police on Wednesday arrested six suspects over the deadly attacks in villages around the West Bank city of Nablus during which settlers fired live ammunition killing a 37-year-old Palestinian man.
“It’s incredibly inflammatory,” said Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from West Jerusalem.
“A very senior minister who is in charge of some affairs within the occupied West Bank for Israel calling for the destruction of a Palestinian city,” Khan said.
His comments came after Zvika Fogel, a member of parliament from the radical Jewish Power party, on Monday appeared to welcome the settler violence in Huwara – home to about 7,000 people.
“A terrorist came out of Huwara – and Huwara was closed and burned,” Fogel said. “This is what I want to see. That’s the only way we’ll achieve deterrence.”
“After a murder like [Sunday’s], villages should burn when the [Israeli army] does not act,” she added.
Fogel, who is part of far-right coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is now under investigation by the attorney general and the police.
A US State Department spokesman called the comments “repugnant, irresponsible and disgusting.”
Ned Price called on the Israeli prime minister and other top officials there to publicly disavow the comments by Finance Minister Smotrich.
At least 390 Palestinians were injured in the attacks that an Israeli general described as a “pogrom”, with Palestinian media reporting stabbings and attacks with metal rods and rocks.
Israeli police said they expected to make more arrests during their ongoing investigation into the settler violence, which centred on the Palestinian village of Huwara, where the two Israeli brothers from a nearby settlement were shot dead.
Israeli media outlets had reported on Tuesday that only eight settlers had previously been arrested following the violence and that they had all been released.
Major-General Yehuda Fuchs, who commands the Israeli military in the area, defended his forces’ role in the violence, after Palestinians accused soldiers of standing by as the settlers attacked.
Fuchs called the incident a “pogrom” and said while his forces had prepared for settler attacks, they had been surprised by the intensity of the violence, which he said was perpetrated by dozens of people.
“The incident in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by outlaws,” Fuchs told N12 News late on Tuesday.
Fuchs’s comments came amid increased tensions within the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which includes hardline settlers demanding tough action against Palestinian attacks.
One of them, national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called on people “not to take the law into their own hands”, while his Jewish Power party has accused Netanyahu of being weak on “terrorism”.
“This is not ‘taking the law into your own hands’ because lawful people don’t sow terror among the [civilian] population,” said Fuchs. “Collective punishment doesn’t help combating terrorism, on the contrary, it might even cause terrorism.”
However, Ben-Gvir himself had responded to the violence by holding a news conference at the illegal settlement outpost of Evytar, where he called for the outpost to be legalised.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces carried out raids in the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp on Wednesday in connection with the shooting and killing of an Israeli-American man on Monday, according to Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Jericho in occupied West Bank.
The Israeli defence minister claimed two Palestinians were arrested in connection to Monday’s attack while the Palestinians say at least six people were arrested by the Israeli forces, four of them brothers, she said, adding that the entry to Jericho was blockaded by the Israeli army for hours.
With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival weeks away, foreign mediators have sought to tamp down tensions that have surged in the past year.
Israeli forces carried out three large-scale raids in Palestinian cities since Israel’s new government took office at the end of last year, including one in Nablus on February 22 that led to the largest Palestinian death toll in a single Israeli military operation since 2005.
Palestinian armed activity has also increased, with several groups emerging over the last year in the West Bank.
“I’m worried,” said US Ambassador Tom Nides at Tel Aviv University’s conference of the Institute for National Security Studies late on Tuesday.
“This is going to be a very complicated period of time we’re about to walk into, we’ve got to keep things as calm as possible to keep things from getting out of control, which could easily happen,” Nides said.