US 'deeply concerned' over West Bank violence as Israel swears in right-wing parliament

Latest attack came hours before new MPs were sworn in at the Knesset in Jerusalem

Mourners react during the funeral of Tamir Avichai, one of three Israelis killed in an attack by a Palestinian assailant near the Ariel settlement in the occupied West Bank. AFP
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The US expressed deep concern at the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank as a Palestinian killed three Israelis and was shot dead on Tuesday night.

The attack came hours before the most right-wing parliament in Israel’s history was set to be sworn in at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The attack in the Ariel settlement industrial zone by what Israeli security said was a knife-wilding Palestinian is just the latest in a growing number that has made 2022 the bloodiest year in the occupied West Bank in nearly a decade.

Tuesday night’s attack was the worst for Israel since security forces stepped up raids across the occupied territories in March.

The suspected attacker was later hailed by Palestinian militant and extremist groups as a hero.

More than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year in clashes with Israeli security forces who have carried out dozens of raids on Palestinian towns.

The US State Department said on Tuesday that it was deeply concerned by the rising violence.

“We convey profound condolences to the families and loved ones of the Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children, who have been killed in the past 48 hours,” spokesman Ned Price said.

Much of the focus of the year’s violence is on the West Bank, which Israel — in the face of foreign censure — has peppered with settlements, deeming the land a biblical birthright and security bulwark.

The Religious Zionism party, led by hardline West Bank settlers, placed third in Israel's November 1 election, making it likely to be the main partner in the next government under ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative Likud, which won most votes.

“Only an iron fist will cut down terrorism,” Religious Zionism co-head Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted about the Ariel attack. He would demand looser open-fire rules for soldiers, he added.

The rise of Mr Ben-Gvir, who has past criminal convictions for racist incitement and support for an outlawed Jewish militant group, has also stirred concern among Israel's 21 per cent Arab minority.

He says he has become more moderate and wants to be police minister. Mr Netanyahu told reporters the coalition would be agreed “soon”.

Addressing the Knesset before its 120 new members were sworn in, President Isaac Herzog said the Ariel attack “shall not succeed in rattling our might and our cohesion”.

“Our domestic arguments reflect the power of our democracy,” he said. Lawmakers must look out for “minorities who are fearful that their needs will not be on the agenda”, he added.

The Palestinian health ministry described the man shot after the Ariel rampage as an 18-year-old from a neighbouring village.

Israeli officials said he started stabbing people after entering the industrial zone, where both Israelis and Palestinians work, and rammed at least one person while trying to flee in a car.

He was licensed to work in the industrial zone and had no known militant affiliations, according to Israeli officials.

Israel blames the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited rule in the West Bank, for failing to control militant factions such as Islamist Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, rejects peace with Israel and praised the Ariel attack.

The PA, deeply unpopular in the West Bank, says its hands are tied by Israel and that it cannot prevent violence against Palestinians by settlers who enjoy army protection.

Palestinians “will not accept that Israeli occupation continues forever”, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said. “We will take serious and decisive steps to protect the rights of our people and end the reckless Israeli escalation.”

Updated: November 16, 2022, 7:19 AM