Palestinians inspect scorched cars in a scrapyard, in the town of Hawara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 27, 2023. Scores of Israeli settlers went on a violent rampage in the northern West Bank, setting cars and homes on fire after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. Image Credit: AP file

JERUSALEM: Israeli settlers killed at least 10 Palestinians and torched dozens of homes in the occupied West Bank in 2023, making it the “most violent” year on record for settler attacks, an Israeli watchdog said Monday.

Numerous West Bank attacks were carried out by a large group of Israeli settlers, and the violence spiked after Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, said Yesh Din, a human rights group.

“At least 10 Palestinians were killed by settlers and dozens of homes and vehicles were set on fire” last year, it said.

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“2023 was the most violent year in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank in both the number of incidents and their severity.”

The West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since the 1967 Six-Day War, and tensions have escalated since the outbreak of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.

About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Yesh Din began monitoring settler violence against Palestinians in 2006.

“The first two months since October 7 were particularly violent, with Yesh Din documenting 242 settler violence incidents,” it said, referring to the day when Hamas launched a series of deadly attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

“In these incidents, hundreds of Israelis raided Palestinian villages, setting fire to dozens of homes and vehicles,” the watchdog said.

‘Lack of trust’

At least 317 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and settlers in the West Bank since the Gaza war began, according to Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry.

Yesh Din refuted claims made by the military and police that there had been a decrease in settler violence in recent months, saying those numbers reflected a drop in complaints filed to Israeli authorities.

Since the current right-wing Israeli government came to power in December 2022, more Palestinians have expressed a “lack of trust” in Israeli law enforcement authorities in the West Bank, it said.

“Settler violence is the policy of the Israeli government,” the watchdog charged about the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which includes settlers and ultra-nationalist hardliners.

Last month the United States said it would refuse visas for extremist Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians, stepping up pressure to curb the wave of violence in the West Bank.

Palestinian militant attacks in Israel and the West Bank, meanwhile, have killed at least 41 people in 2023, according to the Shin Bet security agency.

More than 520 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in 2023, according to the Palestinian health ministry.