JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli security officials announced Wednesday the arrest of six young Israeli settlers from what it called a "Jewish terror" group suspected of carrying out attacks against Palestinians and their property last year, in what officials said was a victory in its campaign to reduce extremist Israeli attacks against Palestinians.
The Shin Bet security agency said the suspects — two minors, a 19-year-old soldier and three others in their early 20s based in the West Bank settlement of Nahliel — acted with intent to harm and kill Palestinians. They were arrested this month and will soon be charged in court, Shin Bet said.
It said members of the group were responsible for attacking a Palestinian farmer with rods and tear gas, injuring him. It also accused group members of throwing firebombs into a Palestinian home in November while family members slept, and lobbing Israeli army gas canisters into another home in December while a Palestinian couple and baby slept. None were injured in the home attacks, the Shin Bet said. The settlers scrawled graffiti on the homes calling for revenge.
The suspects told interrogators, according to Shin Bet, that their actions were inspired by a deadly Israeli arson attack on a West Bank home last July that killed a Palestinian couple and their toddler. Group members were connected to members of another ring of Jewish extremists recently apprehended and accused of a series of attacks on Palestinian and Christian targets, Shin Bet said.
While Israel has been dealing with a wave of vigilante-style attacks by suspected Jewish extremists in recent years, the deadly 2015 firebombing sparked soul-searching across the nation. The attack was condemned across the Israeli political spectrum, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged "zero tolerance" in the fight to bring the assailants to justice.
Also Wednesday, the Israeli military demolished the home of a Palestinian who carried out a lethal stabbing attack in a West Bank Jewish settlement in January.
In the January attack, Hussein Mohammed Abu Ghosh and another Palestinian armed with knives and improvised explosive devices stabbed two women near a supermarket in the settlement of Beit Horon and were killed by an Israeli security guard, the military said. One woman, Shlomit Krigman, 23, later died of her wounds.
The home demolition took place in the Qalandia refugee camp, which straddles the area between the West Bank and Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. Israel says demolitions are meant to deter attacks, but critics say the tactic is collective punishment.
Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli forces during the demolition, the military said. Forces tried to disperse the crowd, the military said, then fired live bullets at what it called the "main instigators." Two soldiers were lightly injured, and Ramallah Hospital said eight Palestinians were injured.
There has been a seven-month wave of Palestinian attacks — mostly stabbings, shootings and vehicular attacks — against Israeli civilians and security forces.
In that time, 28 Israelis and two Americans were killed. At least 189 Palestinians have also been killed. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were attackers, with the rest killed in clashes with security forces.
Israel says the violence is fueled by a campaign of Palestinian incitement compounded on social media sites that glorify and encourage attacks. Palestinians say the violence is due to a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians seek the territory for an independent state.