The Palestinian Authority official in charge of the settlement file in the north of the occupied West Bank has warned of the escalation of settler terrorist attacks against local Palestinians, Al Quds Al Arabi has reported. "There are indications of an escalation of settler attacks, and carrying out terrorist acts against Palestinian citizens and their property," said Ghassan Daghlas.
He made his claim at a time when the PLO's National Office for the Defence of Land and Resistance against Settlements has recorded at least 110 attacks committed by settlers against Palestinians since the beginning of October. Half of these attacks, it confirmed, have taken place over the past ten days.
Attacks by illegal settlers against the Palestinians in the occupied territories may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity as part of Israel's "ethnic cleansing" of Palestine. Indeed, the very presence of settlers and the settlements in which they live is regarded as a war crime under international law.
The Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, Aviv Kochavi, is said to have ordered senior commanders to "repress the violence" of settlers in the occupied West Bank after the attacks prompted widespread international criticism. This contrasts with the announcement by the Israeli government in July that it supports the "Magen" project to create a settler militia to work as reserves alongside the army and police.
Moreover, settlers are reported to have requested permission for the army to supply them with heavy-duty M4 and M16 machine guns because automatic machine pistols are inadequate for "self-defence". Given that settler attacks are generally against unarmed Palestinian civilians, this suggests that the settlers may be planning to escalate the severity of the attacks.
READ: Israel settlers attack Palestinian property in Hebron
Israeli security agencies are apparently anxious about this development. They believe that this could lead to even more instability in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A few months ago, settlers started to form a militia called the "Civil Guard" to carry out what they called "sweep operations" on the road that passes through Huwara, to the south of Nablus. According to the PLO, this militia operates under the nose of the occupation army and depends on firearms licences issued by the Civil Administration which, despite its name, is run by army officers.
The PLO National Office said that the activities of this militia are not limited to protecting settlers on roads, as it claims, but that it carries out terrorist operations. Israel's Minister of Internal Security, Omer Bar Lev, admitted recently that settlers are involved in "organised terrorism" against the Palestinians in the West Bank.
The National Office pointed out that the spread of weapons in the hands of settlers is neither new nor a temporary phenomenon, and that settlers' use of army weapons to intimidate Palestinians is no longer a secret. Video reports documented this when a settler shot at Palestinian citizens using a military-grade weapon in At-Tuwani village south of Hebron on 26 June. More recently, an Israeli soldier has been caught on camera instructing a settler on how to use a gas bomb against Palestinians in the town of Burin, south of Nablus; another video showed a uniformed Israeli handing a settler a gas bomb and directing him where and how to use it.