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US defense chief warns settler violence in West Bank 'will work against' Israel if not controlled

Anadolu Agency MIDDLE EAST
Published October 31,2023

Soaring settler violence in the occupied West Bank that has led to the deaths and displacement of Palestinian civilians will backfire on Israel in the long term unless it is reined in, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Tuesday.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Austin said he addresses the matter "every time" he speaks with his Israeli counterpart. He described settler violence as "fairly disturbing."

"It will work against them going forward if they don't make a decision to control this better," said Austin.

Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have skyrocketed since Oct. 7 when Hamas launched a shocking cross-border attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people.

The surge in settler violence -- sometimes under the protection of Israeli soldiers -- against Palestinians and their property has coincided with Israel's devastating retaliatory bombardment and blockade of the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 8,500 Palestinians.

Settlers have launched 280 attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, killing seven so far, according to the Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, which is affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The methods employed by settlers in the attacks have varied, from firing live ammunition to beatings, uprooting trees, stoning vehicles, blocking roads and attacking homes, families and farmers.

Speaking alongside Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said settler attacks are "adding fuel to the fire" of what is already an extremely volatile situation.

"We've seen that people have been, in effect forcibly displaced from their communities, as well as killed, so this is something that we are in direct communication and conversation with the Israeli government at the very highest levels, and something we're tracking very carefully," he said.

Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin "is very much trying to take advantage of the Hamas attack on Israel in the hopes that it will distract us, that it will divert our focus away from Ukraine, and away from his aggression in Ukraine, and that it will result in the United States pulling back, pulling back its resources, pulling back its support."

"At the same time, he's allied with the exact elements that are trying to wreak havoc in Israel. So we see these things as being very much joined," he said.