Palestinian residents of Huwara awoke to scenes of devastation on Monday after hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed the town overnight setting fire to homes and cars and attacking residents and emergency responders in a revenge attack after the fatal shooting of two Israeli brothers.

Dozens of Palestinians suffered injuries in Huwara and several other villages. In neighbouring  Zatara, Palestinian aid worker Sameh Al-Aqtash was shot dead.

Israeli soldiers were present throughout the raid but did not intervene. Some were filmed socialising and eating with the attackers, who came from nearby settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under international law.

Following the violence, Israel sent hundreds more troops to the occupied West Bank on Monday, as Palestinians reported that they were prevented from opening their businesses.

Huwara resident Zaid Dmaidi, 48, said he and his family fled for their lives as the mob attacked their house.

“They kept banging on the doors and shattered the windows,” he told i. “There was fire outside and smoke started getting inside the house. We could either stay inside and inhale the smoke or go outside and get killed.”

The family stayed inside as the house filled with smoke, opening the back door to let in oxygen.

“When they were done with our house they finally left,” said Mr Dmaidi. The family fled to a friend’s house and remained there on Monday as settlers and soldiers patrolled on the streets. “It is still not safe to go back,” he says.

The raid on Huwara was organised – with flyers distributed after Israeli brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, from the settlement of Har Bracha, were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in Huwara on Sunday evening.

Israeli media reported claims from witnesses that the shooter wore a symbol of the Palestinian militant group Lion’s Den, which had promised revenge after Israeli soldiers killed six of the group’s members and several civilians in a raid on the city of Nablus last week.

NABLUS, WEST BANK - FEBRUARY 27: Smoke and flames rise after Israeli settlers went on a rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara, setting fire to several homes and cars and injuring dozens of Palestinians, on February 27, 2023. (Photo by Hisham K. K. Abu Shaqra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Fires rage during the settler attack on Huwara (Photo: Getty)

Israelis and Palestinians accused the Israeli army and government of allowing the settler’s revenge.

“Israel’s army knew exactly what settlers were planning in Huwara last night: it was organised publicly,” said Ben Reiff of left-wing Israeli magazine +972. “But they stood by for hours while settlers burnt homes and cars with people inside.”

In the aftermath of the raid, Israeli officials were split on the violence that followed.

“Taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting and committing violence against innocents – this is not our way, and I express my forceful condemnation,” said President Isaac Herzog.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that the gunman would be caught and said: “I ask – even when the blood is boiling – not to take the law into one’s hands.”

But Zvika Fogel, a member of parliament in Mr Netanyahu’s hard right ruling coalition, told Israeli radio: “Huwara is closed and burnt. That is what I want to see. Only thus can we obtain deterrence.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich liked a tweet from a settler leader calling for Huwara to be “erased.”

The UK consulate in Jerusalem condemned the attack, tweeting: “Horrified by scenes of settler violence in Huwarra and nearby villages yesterday…Settlers responsible for this violence must be brought to justice.”

US government spokesman Ned Price said: “We condemn today’s violence in the West Bank, including the terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property.”

The statement marked a sharp change of tone from the last official US comment on Israeli-Palestinian relations, which “welcomed” an announcement from Jordan on Sunday that the two sides had committed to a series of conciliatory measures, including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

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Israeli officials, including Mr Netanyahu, swiftly dismissed the reports and promised that construction in the West Bank would continue. Israel’s parliament greenlist more than 7,000 new settlement units last week.

The US and neighbouring states such as Jordan and Egypt have been pushing for de-escalation between the sides after a bloody beginning to the year. At least 64 Palestinians have been killed by settlers and soldiers, and at least 12 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians over the past two months, with fears of further escalation.

Nablus and adjacent towns such as Huwara have become common flashpoints with settlements expanding onto Palestinian land and settlers becoming increasingly aggressive, as Palestinians increasingly favour armed struggle over the dormant peace process.

The Israeli army recorded 838 attacks by settlers on Palestinians last year, up from 446 in 2021. Several of those took place in Huwara, including a raid last month that injured a three-year-old boy.

“This is the fourth attack since October,” said Mr Dmaidi. “The house was partially destroyed before too. I fixed it and decorated it. It was very costly so I don’t think I will do that again, especially as we are subject to these attacks at any moment.”

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