Israeli settlers kill two Palestinian men in West Bank, officials say

Israeli settlers shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank on Monday, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials, as tensions continued to rise in the Israeli-occupied territory.

The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health identified the two men as Abdelrahman Bani Fadel, 30, and Mohammad Bani Jama, 21. The circumstances of their deaths near the city of Aqraba remained unclear.

The Israeli army said the two men were killed during a “violent exchange” between Israeli settlers and Palestinians following reports that a Palestinian had attacked an Israeli shepherd. An initial investigation indicated that the shots “did not come” from Israeli soldiers, the military said.

The two Palestinians appeared to have been shot by Israeli settlers at the scene, said an Israeli security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

The killings fueled fears that the West Bank could become another front for a country already in its seventh month of war in the Gaza Strip.

Around 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank live alongside around 2.7 million Palestinians under Israeli military occupation. Since the war began on October 7, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces there and in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations.

In recent days a renewed wave of violence has swept through the West Bank.

On Friday, a 14-year-old Israeli teenager went missing, prompting Israeli settlers to riot inside the Palestinian village, Al Mughayir. Jihad Abu Aliya, a 25-year-old resident, was shot dead during a mob attack, according to the village mayor, Amin Abu Aliya.

The teenager, Binyamin Achimair, was found dead on Saturday after an intensive search; Israeli officials said he had been murdered in an act of terrorism and vowed to track down the perpetrators. In response, Israeli settlers, some of them armed, have conducted a series of mass assaults in Palestinian cities, setting fire to homes and cars, according to Palestinian witnesses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Israelis to allow security forces to search for Achimair's killers, but did not denounce the mob attacks on Palestinians. Human rights groups have long charged that Israel turns a blind eye to settler violence and rarely brings perpetrators to justice.

In movie distributed on Sunday by Yesh Din, an Israeli rights group that tracks violence by Jewish extremists in the West Bank, hooded figures are seen setting fire to a car as Israeli soldiers look on nearby without intervening.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, condemned Achimair's killing in a statement Monday. But he also said that Washington is “increasingly concerned about the violence against Palestinian civilians and their property that has occurred in the West Bank since Achimair's disappearance.”

“We strongly condemn these murders and our thoughts go out to their loved ones,” Miller said. “The violence must stop. Civilians are never legitimate targets.”

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