Israel files terror charge against 2 settlers in Huwara assault

Palestinians say they are left defenseless as West Bank settler violence

By Maytaal Angel

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli prosecutors indicted two Jewish settlers on Thursday for what the indictment described as a terrorist assault on Palestinians in a flashpoint village in the occupied West Bank that has been a focus of international concern.

The suspects were among a group who, during the Jewish festival of Purim on March 6, attacked cars and their occupants in Huwara, Israel's Shin Bet internal security service said.

It said the two, both men in their 20s, were indicted in Central District Court for grievous bodily harm - to which prosecutors added a terrorism designation - and vandalism.

Huwara was the scene of Feb. 26 rioting by settlers to avenge the killing of two Israeli brothers by a Palestinian gunman as they passed through in their car. A local Palestinian was shot dead and dozens of cars and homes were set alight during the rampage, over which Israel has conducted several arrests.

Those incidents overshadowed a Jordanian-hosted meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials meant to calm the West Bank. A far-right Israeli minister's later comment that Huwara should be "erased" only stoked Western concern.

The two settlers indicted on Thursday were accused of attacking Palestinians parked outside shops, including with an axe and by throwing rocks at them, while shouting "Death to Arabs!". Two Palestinians were wounded, the indictment says.

A lawyer for the suspects said they had yet to enter a plea, and that he would ask next week for their release on bail.

Grievous bodily harm can carry a maximum jail term of 20 years in Israel, vandalism a maximum five-year jail term.

Violence has soared in the West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood. Israel's settlements there - deemed illegal by most world powers - see frequent friction.

According to Israeli watchdog group Yesh Did, 93% of investigations into alleged settler violence between 2005 and 2022 were closed without indictments.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; editing by Jonathan Oatis)