The Shin Bet has joined police in investigating the killing of a Palestinian man, allegedly by Israeli settlers, in the West Bank over the weekend, a spokesperson for the internal security service told The Times of Israel on Monday.
According to Palestinian eyewitnesses, health officials, and the Israeli rights group Yesh Din, around 30 settlers who arrived from the illegal Havat Yair (Yair Farm) outpost attacked Palestinians on the outskirts of the nearby town of Qarawat Bani Hassan on Saturday.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said one of the men, 27-year-old Methqal Abd al-Halim Rayan, was fatally shot in the head.
The Samaria Regional Council said a group of around 25 Israelis hiking in the area was attacked by the Palestinians, who allegedly hurled stones and launched fireworks at them.
The Shin Bet said it was joining police in the investigation. However, law enforcement authorities have yet to question any suspects.
A resident of Qarawat Bani Hassan told the Haaretz daily that the group of settlers came to the area outside the town, and some told him that he was not allowed to be there.
???? الشهيد الشاب مثقال ريان الذي ارتقى برصاص مستوطن في قراوة بني حسان، قضاء سلفيت pic.twitter.com/3VQgxqzZM6
— الرسالة للإعلام (@Alresalahpress) February 11, 2023
“I told them that they were not allowed to talk to me like that, and one of them told me that he would shoot me,” the Palestinian eyewitness told the newspaper.
He said among the settlers he recognized one who had previously told him that “he killed a lot of Arabs.”
In a statement, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said he “fully supports” a settler who “opened fire in the air” to protect the group of Israelis.
“Dozens of Palestinians approached the hikers throwing stones and [launching] fireworks at them,” the statement said. “Due to a fear for the lives of the hikers, one of the residents fired in the air,” it added.
“I fully support the citizen who defended his life and the lives of the hikers. The resident who opened fire acted correctly when he defended his life from a rioting and rampaging mob of terrorists,” Dagan said.
The eyewitness denied fireworks had been launched but said some Palestinians had hurled stones at the group when they approached the town. There were no reports of settlers wounded in the incident.
“When the people from the town arrived there was one person who tried to talk to them to avoid problems. The settler started shooting about 30 bullets in our direction,” the resident told Haaretz.
“It is true that they threw stones at them, but they came to us. When the young man was shot he was just standing,” he added.
الشاب الجريح في قراوة بني حسان أصيب برصاص مستوطن خلال تصدي الأهالي لهم غرب سلفيت. pic.twitter.com/xM8BuEPxmc
— المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام (@PalinfoAr) February 11, 2023
A police spokeswoman told The Times of Israel that the force had launched an investigation into the case, but could not confirm the reports as officers had not yet inspected the body or questioned any suspects allegedly involved.
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces told The Times of Israel that troops were called to the scene following reports of clashes between settlers and Palestinians, adding that soldiers were not involved in the gunfire that killed the man.
“IDF forces arrived and responded with riot dispersal means and shooting in the air,” following “violent friction between dozens of Palestinians and Israeli citizens,” the military said in a statement.
The IDF said that it was aware of a Palestinian reportedly being shot by settlers and taken to a hospital before troops had arrived at the scene.
The US strongly condemned the killing, and called for an investigation into the incident.
“We strongly condemn the shooting of [Methqal Abd al-Halim Rayan] by an Israeli settler from the illegal Havat Yair outpost in Salfit,” the US Office of Palestinian Affairs said on Twitter, making a point of highlighting the suspect’s residence in an illegal outpost.
“We have seen reports that the Israeli police are investigating the incident, and note that Israel has responsibility for security in the areas it controls,” the office added.
“We urge a thorough and transparent investigation of the shooting that leads to accountability and prevents future settler violence,” the statement continued.
“As Secretary Antony Blinken said last month, all sides must take steps to prevent further escalation in violence and restore calm,” the US office added.
The incident came at a time of rising violence in the region, with the Israeli military pressing on with an anti-terror offensive in the West Bank to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and 10 more since the beginning of the year.
The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 46 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.
There has also been a noted rise in settler violence toward Palestinians in recent months.
But most of the cases are never solved. Between 2005 and 2021, just 7% of investigations into extremist violence against Palestinians have led to indictments, according to Yesh Din.
The Biden administration has increasingly taken issue with the lack of accountability for incidents of settler violence.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.