Jewish settlers spray Israeli soldiers in the West Bank with pepper spray

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JERUSALEM — Jewish settlers stormed a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said Thursday, throwing stones at Palestinian cars and using pepper spray at troops trying to disperse the settlers.

Late Wednesday settler rampage is coming days after a similar incident in the same area and as Israeli-Palestinian tensions rise due to Israeli raids in the West Bank and increased shooting attacks by Palestinians.

Also on Thursday, Palestinian health officials said a 16-year-old Palestinian died after being injured in clashes with Israeli troops late last month. Palestinians have called for a general strike across the West Bank in response to the spiraling violence.

The rampage took place near Huwara, a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank near the city of Nablus, where a group of disgruntled young people took up arms against Israel and frustrated by the close security ties the Palestinian leadership has with it.

Palestinian militants in the area have carried out several roadside shootings in recent weeks. The area is home to a number of radical settlements, whose inhabitants often intimidate Palestinians and vandalize their property.

Critics accuse Israel of turning a blind eye to settler violence against Palestinians and dealing with it with impunity, while being brutal with Palestinian attackers or protesters. In the past, settler violence has also led to clashes with soldiers, which often draws condemnation from politicians but rarely leads to a solution to the problem.

The army said dozens of settlers ran through the city, throwing stones at Palestinian cars. The settlers used pepper spray on the battalion commander and another soldier. Settlers sprayed two other soldiers at a nearby checkpoint, the army said.

Police said the settlers fled the scene by car. They said a 20-year-old suspect had been arrested and more arrests were expected.

In a statement, Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi condemned the violence.

“This is a very serious incident that epitomizes disgraceful and disgraceful criminal behavior that demands strict and swift justice,” he said. In a tweet, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the settlers “dangerous criminals”.

The violence comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have risen in recent months.

More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2015.

Mohammed Fadi Nuri, 16, was shot in the stomach last month by Israeli soldiers near the city of Ramallah and died on Thursday. The general strike called for Thursday was to affect all sectors except vital services such as hospitals or bakeries.

The fighting has increased since a series of Palestinian attacks in the spring killed 19 people in Israel and more in recent violence. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But young stone throwers protesting the incursions and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians seek for their future state.

Some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank in some 130 settlements.

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