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Hawara West Bank: 'What happened was horrific and barbaric'

By Tom Bateman for BBC News

A Palestinian child walks near cars burnt near Hawara - Reuters

Homes in Hawara are charred black alongside burned-out cars cloaked in a layer of ash. The air tastes acrid as people speak of the night their town burned.

Residents told the BBC a mob had gone on an hours-long rampage armed with iron bars and rocks before torching buildings, cars and trees.

On Sunday the Palestinian town was subjected to one of the worst cases of mass Israeli settler violence in years, hours after two settlers were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman.

"The settlers attacked our house, they smashed the windows and burned my nephew's cars and trucks. They tried to break into my car showroom and set it on fire," said Abdel Nasser al-Junaidi, speaking outside his home.

He described how he had rushed his children up to the rooftop to try to keep them safe.

"The army did nothing to protect us. It supported the settlers and protected them. The shooting was from both settlers and soldiers. We were terrified. What happened was a horrific and barbaric attack," said Mr al-Junaidi.

The scale of the damage becomes clear when you keep walking the length of this town that sits astride Route 60 - the main highway running north-south through the occupied West Bank.

Home after home is wrecked, shop-fronts are torched as are dozens of cars- including many in a used car lot that went up in flames.

The Palestinian health ministry says 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash died after being shot in the stomach during an attack by settlers in Zaatara on Sunday night. Dozens more were wounded.

One family had to be rescued by paramedics after becoming trapped in their house when settlers laid burning tyres outside their front door, blocking the route out.

"My wife, my brother's wife, and our young children were in the house, they were screaming, and the children were crying, and they were crying out for protection from the settlers' oppression, and we could not reach them," said Oday al-Domadi, speaking to the BBC in the remains of his burned-out lounge.

He rushed home from his work in Nablus after hearing that settlers were planning a march of "revenge" after the killing earlier of two Israeli settlers in the town. Hillel and Yagel Yaniv lived in the settlement of Har Bracha, which is 1.9km (1.2 miles) south of Nablus.

"There were about 30 masked settlers carrying pistols who were destroying the house… The moment we entered the house, they discovered us, threw stones at us and broke my brother's shoulder.

"I shouted at the soldiers to protect the children and prevent the settlers from frightening them, but the soldiers responded by shooting at me and shouting at me to stay at home," said Mr al-Domadi, who eventually managed to ensure his children were safely in another part of the building.

"The worst thing is what the kids experienced - the terror and the panic they felt. Afterwards, they were trembling in fear and sheltering in my lap, begging me to stay beside them."

The Israeli army has defended its handling of the violence but a military official said, "The wisdom of the deployment could be challenged."

Human rights groups have long blamed violence against Palestinian civilians on an atmosphere of impunity surrounding settler violence in the occupied West Bank, particularly in some of the most ideological settlements in the area around Hawara and Nablus.

They say this has been now amplified with the powerful pro-settler, far-right component of Israel's new government.

Israel's police routinely says it investigates such cases but campaigners say these are often a whitewash.

Alongside waves of Israeli military search and arrest raids in Palestinian cities, and growing numbers of Palestinian armed attacks against Israelis, there is growing concern about a slide into uncontrollable violence.

It increasingly feels like a tipping point is being reached, particularly amid increasing signs that the Palestinian Authority is unable to regain a grip on its limited security control of key cities, despite American-led attempts to help it do so.

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