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Awarta residents DNA tested in Itamar case

March 29, 2011 9:44 A.M. (Updated: March 31, 2011 2:01 A.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- The deputy mayor of Awarta and two of his brothers were detained along with dozens of others Tuesday morning by Israeli forces. Officials say the detained men are being given DNA tests and questioned by soldiers.

The detentions come as the investigation into the murders of five Israeli settlers - including two children and an infant - enters its third week. More than 40 had been detained from the village in the first week of the investigation, and foreign workers in the settlement were said to have been questioned.

Awarta, the closest Palestinian village to the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar, where the murders occurred, has been the center of the investigation. It was placed under military curfew twice, the first time for five days.

While a third curfew was not imposed overnight, Israeli troops forcibly entered homes, detaining an unknown number of residents estimated to be in the dozens. Forty had already been detained during earlier arrest raids, including a Voice of Palestine radio journalist.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed military activity in the village overnight, but said she could not comment on whether or not villagers had been arrested, or the nature of their arrests. Israel placed details of the investigation under a gag order, and while political leaders pointed the finger at Palestinian militants, no suspect has been publicly identified.

Awarta Mayor Qays Awwad told Ma'an on Tuesday morning that the men and boys who had been detained during the first round of arrests in the village were taken to the Israeli military base at Huwwara, where they were subjected to DNA testing and fingerprinted.

"They took samples for DNA tests, and were fingerprinted before being interrogated. Some were released but more are being kept in custody," the mayor said, adding that his deputy mayor Hasan Awwad and two of his brothers were among those rounded up overnight.

Palestinian militant groups, leaders and civil society organizations condemned the Itamar murders, in which five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death in their beds shortly before midnight on March 11. Settler leaders released pictures of the grisly murders, and officials blamed Palestinians, intensifying a wave of settler violence.

Since the end of February, seven Palestinians have been injured by settler gunfire, two have been stabbed, two have been beaten, seven have been injured by stones, at least six cars have been torched. Meanwhile, dozens of acts of vandalism and harassment have been reported.

An escalation in violent attacks began after the Israeli government dismantled an illegal settlement outpost on February 28. Under a professed "price tag" policy, settlers make Palestinians "pay" for each evacuation of outposts. In the past, the "price" has included arson, shootings, beatings, burning fields, uprooting trees and poisoning water wells belonging to Palestinians.

The scale of the attacks redoubled after Palestinians were accused in the Itamar murders before investigations began.
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