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3 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Raid in Occupied West Bank; US criticizes latest settlement expansion


May 22, 2023

Three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli army raid on a West Bank refugee camp early Monday, Palestinian health officials said, as the Biden administration strongly condemned Israel’s latest act of settlement expansion.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the three men were killed during a raid on Balata, a refugee camp near the city of Nablus. Six people were injured, including one in critical condition, the ministry said.

The army later confirmed that the soldiers had raided Balata; he said the troops came under fire and killed three Palestinians. Israel has stepped up raids in response to a series of Palestinian attacks and said Monday’s operations detected weapons and an explosives-making operation at a house, which detonated it.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration issued a harshly worded statement on Sunday criticizing Israel for moving to resettle settlers in the previously evacuated outpost of Homesh in the northern West Bank.

In March, the Israeli government repealed a 2005 law that dismantled four West Bank settlements. Over the weekend, the top Israeli army general in the West Bank signed an order linking Homesh to a local regional council of settlers, a move that paves the way for the rebuilding of the outpost.

The United States was «deeply concerned» by what US State Department spokesman Mathew Miller said was Israel’s illegal policy on the outpost in the occupied territory.

Miller also voiced Washington’s concerns over ultra-nationalist National Security Minister Itmar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. The disputed site is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

“This sacred space should not be used for political purposes and we call on all parties to respect its sanctity,” Miller said in the statement.

Israeli soldiers during a raid on the Balata refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Monday morning. Zain Jaafar / AFP – Getty Images

Under longstanding agreements, Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there. But in recent years, a growing number of Jewish visitors have begun silent prayers, raising fears among Palestinians that Israel is plotting to divide or seize the site. Ben-Gvir has long called for greater Jewish access.

Ben-Gvir visited the hilltop compound on Sunday and declared «we are in charge» as the Israeli cabinet held a rare meeting in Jerusalem’s Old City to celebrate its control of the area. Ben-Gvir’s visit drew condemnation from Palestinians and Israel’s neighbor Jordan.

Ben-Gvir, a former West Bank settler leader and far-right activist who was convicted years ago of inciting and supporting a Jewish terror group, now serves as Israel’s national security minister and oversees the country’s police force.

More than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since spring 2022. Some 50 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the fighting have also been killed.

Last week, Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Middle East war. Flag-waving nationalists marched down the main Palestinian thoroughfare in the Old City Jerusalem, some singing racist anti-Arab chants, as hundreds of Jews visited the sensitive hilltop sanctuary.

Israel also captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized by most of the international community and considers the city its permanent and undivided capital.

Tensions at the disputed compound have fueled past rounds of violence.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox nationalist parties and has made settlement construction in the West Bank a top priority.

The Israeli settlements, home to 700,000 people in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, are considered by most of the international community to be illegal and obstacles to peace.

Fighting also broke out between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip earlier this month. The Israeli strikes killed 33, many of them militants but also women and children. Two people were killed in Israel by militant rocket fire.