Defiant Israel to expand West Bank settlements
Israel's right-wing nationalist government announced new plans June 18 to approve the construction of thousands of new buildings in the occupied West Bank, despite pressure from both the US and EU to halt settlement expansion. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has just been granted authority over approval of West Bank settlement construction in a cabinet decision, tweeted in explicitly annexationist language: "The construction boom in Judea and Samaria and all over our country continues."
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called for US and international action to press the Israeli government to backtrack on the decision both to expand settlement constuction and give Smotrich authority in the matter.
The settlement expansion plan comes amid escalating violence. The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced June 19 that at least five Palestinians were killed and 91 injured during an Israeli military raid on a purported Islamic Jihad stronghold in the West Bank town of Jenin. An Israeli helicopter gunship fired missiles after Palestinian militants targeted troop carriers with explosives.
In an apparent reprisal attack the next day, a Palestinian opened fire at a gas station near the Israeli settlement of Eli, killing at least four people and wounding several others before being shot. Israeli security forces said they also shot and killed another Palestinian assailant who fled the scene of the attack. Hamas claimed both assailants as followers.
Hours after the shooting, Israeli settlers streamed through Palestinian towns in the Nablus area, torching and ransacking property and smashing cars with stones. Some settlers opened fire at Palestinians who ventured out of their homes to confront them. Huwara, the scene of much recent violence between settlers and Palestinians, was one of the targeted towns. (Jurist, ToI, WAFA, NPR, Al Jazeera, BBC News, PRI)
Israeli police also clashed with Druze farmers in the illegally annexed Golan Heights, who blocked roads and burned tires to protest seizure of their lands for a wind farm. They were attacked by riot police who fired tear-gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Israel's Energix Renewable Energies plans to build the $190 million project in orchards near the towns of Majdal Shams and Masada in the northern Golan. Palestinians in the area have announced a general strike in support of the farmers. (Arab News, MEE)