JERUSALEM — While world attention focuses on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, a battle has been slowly brewing in the other Palestinian territory, the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
At least 49 Palestinians have been killed, and an additional 950 people injured, in sporadic clashes with Israeli forces and settlers that have broken out in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel on Saturday morning.
Ten of the people were killed Friday during confrontations with Israeli forces that took place at several locations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The violence Friday began after thousands of Palestinians set off on marches in solidarity with Gaza, some waving Hamas flags, after weekly prayers. Hamas, which controls Gaza, had called for a “day of rage,” urging Palestinians to confront Israeli forces and settlers in protest of Israel’s retaliatory strikes on the blockaded enclave.
But tensions are not new in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are experiencing the deadliest year in nearly two decades. At least 246 Palestinians have been killed, many in gunbattles with Israeli forces carrying out raids into Palestinian towns. The number of violent incidents attributed to Israeli settlers this year has also reached the highest level since at least 2006, the first year since the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs began tracking the incidents.
Pro-Israeli supporters confront people attending a demonstration to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, the United States, on Friday. (Photo: Reuters)
The conflict in Gaza has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank, where some Palestinians support Hamas. Many also view the Palestinian Authority — the semi-autonomous body that governs the West Bank and was forced out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 — as a subcontractor for Israel, helping maintain the occupation.
The atrocities by Hamas assailants in southern Israel on Saturday have angered hard-line Israeli settlers. Messages have been circulating in WhatsApp groups and on social media calling on settlers to arm themselves and confront Palestinians.
“We can’t rely on the army alone to protect us,” read one message that was sent Friday to a WhatsApp group with over 8,000 followers.
On Friday, settlers shot at Palestinian worshippers leaving a mosque in Yatta, a West Bank city near Hebron, and injured one, according to a witness and videos posted on social media. One resident of Yatta, Basel Adra, 27, said that Palestinians have endured growing harassment in recent days by settlers, who now appear to be moving through the area with weapons.
A masked Palestinian protester takes cover near flaming tires during clashes with Israeli forces following a rally in solidarity with Gaza by supporters of the Fatah and Hamas movements, in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
In Qusra, a village near Hebron, armed settlers killed four Palestinians on Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The next day settlers and Israeli soldiers shot at the funeral procession, killing a father and his son, the ministry said.
In response to the violence in Qusra, the Israel Defense Forces said that a number of Palestinian casualties were reported following clashes between settlers and Palestinians. It did not say how many.
A Jewish man touches the wall as he prays at the Western Wall, the last remaining vestige of the Second Temple, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (Photo: AFP)
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.