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3 Palestinians detained in wake of Huwwara clashes, settler who killed 1 remains free

May 25, 2017 5:17 P.M. (Updated: May 27, 2017 7:45 P.M.)
A Palestinian grieves next to the body of 23-year-old Muataz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces detained three Palestinians suspected of having been involved in clashes in the occupied West Bank district of Nablus a week prior, during which an Israeli settler shot and killed a young Palestinian man.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement on Wednesday that the three residents of the village of Huwwara, where the deadly incident took place, were suspected of throwing stones at the settler’s car when he drove in the middle of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth demonstrating in solidarity with an ongoing prisoner hunger strike.

Al-Samri did not specify when the three were detained.

In an interview published by Middle East Monitor on Tuesday, the settler, a resident of the nearby illegal settlement of Itamar, claimed that a Palestinian ambulance deliberately blocked his way, adding that a paramedic tried to open his car door, while Palestinians “with murder in their eyes” were throwing stones at his vehicle.

The settler added he shot without seeing where he was aiming, and that he fled in his car once the ambulance moved out of the way. Muataz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, 23, was killed in the shooting, while Palestinian journalist Majdi Ishtayeh was injured.
Muataz Bani Shamsa

However, an investigation by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the settler had attempted to run over a number of protesters at high speed, and that the ambulance driver had blocked the way in an effort to prevent him from harming any of the demonstrators. The settler then opened fire at the protesters, before an Israeli military vehicle arrived at the scene and heavily fired tear gas in the area, causing Palestinians to disperse, while evacuating the settler from the area.

A day after the incident, the ambulance driver was detained for “seemingly” obstructing the settler’s vehicle during the clashes, “posing a real danger to the driver’s life,” al-Samri said in a statement at the time.

Aqraba Mayor Ayman Bani Fadel told Ma’an on Thursday that the ambulance driver, whom he identified as Aqraba-based Yousif Moussa Deiriyyeh, was blocked off by the army during the clashes while he was trying to assist wounded demonstrators, adding that the ambulance driver threatened to prosecute the soldiers for preventing him from doing his work.

Deiriyyeh has been held in Megiddo prison since his detention, where he has had his remand extended until May 29, Bani Fadel added.

The mayor said that Aqraba’s ambulance was also still held by Israeli authorities a week later, adding that it was the first time that Israeli forces had detained an ambulance driver and confiscated an ambulance from the municipality.

Meanwhile, the settler who killed Bani Shamsa was not being investigated as a criminal suspect in the case.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an on Thursday that the settler had testified to Israeli police over the events and had later been released, adding that he did not have more immediate information on whether charges were being pressed against the settler.

“Israeli forces continue to cover settlers’ crimes and even support and offer them permanent protection in addition to not subjecting them to the law,” PCHR said in its report on the case. “All of these practices encourage settlers to continue committing crimes against Palestinian civilians.”

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with recent announcements of settlement expansion provoking condemnation from the international community.

Palestinian activists and rights groups have long accused Israel of fostering a “culture of impunity” for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians.

Shortly after the shooting, an Israeli settler, under the protection of Israeli soldiers, was filmed distributing candy to passing Israeli vehicles south of Nablus in celebration of Bani Shamsa’s killing, saying that he wanted “to congratulate the Israeli people for the vandal’s death.”

In March, Israeli NGO Yesh Din revealed that Israeli authorities served indictments in only 8.2 percent of cases of Israeli settlers committing anti-Palestinian crimes in the occupied West Bank in the past three years.

Palestinian stone-throwers, in stark contrast, face harsh penalties by Israeli authorities, including up to 20 years in prison if charged with throwing stones at vehicles and a minimum prison sentence of three years for throwing a stone at an Israeli.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 107 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2016. OCHA reported 46 such attacks in 2017 as of May 1.
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