West Bank violence burns as Israeli election nears

By Ali Sawafta and James Mackenzie

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) - In the alleyways of the Old City of Nablus, posters commemorating young men killed in clashes with Israeli forces are everywhere, an unavoidable reminder of the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank over recent months.

After years of relative calm, more than 100 Palestinians from the West Bank have been killed this year, most since late March during a crackdown following a string of fatal street attacks by Palestinians in Israel which killed 19 people.

Just last weekend, four Palestinian teenagers and an 18-year-old Israeli soldier were killed in separate incidents.

"The situation in the West Bank is worse than it has been for many years," said Ibrahim Ramadan, the Palestinian Authority governor of Nablus, who said there was a complete breakdown of trust on the part of young men radicalised by daily confrontations with troops and Israeli settlers.

"Nowadays, no one can control the militants in the street."

With an election on Nov. 1, Prime Minister Yair Lapid has backed a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, which seized control of the West Bank in the 1967 Middle Eastern war.

But with the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements into areas at the heart of any future state, faith in a political solution has rarely seemed more distant among Palestinians in the sprawling refugee camps of cities like Nablus or Jenin.

"This generation cannot see a political horizon," said Alaa Al-Nabulsi, whose 18-year-old son Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi was killed in a gun fight with Israeli forces in the Old City on Aug. 9. and whose name has become a rallying cry.

For most Israeli voters, focused mainly on the soaring cost of living, surveys show the Palestinian issue barely registers as an election issue, while among settlers in the West Bank, there are calls for a tougher crackdown.

"We are in the midst of a wave of terror courtesy of the terrorist Palestinian Authority," Yossi Dagan, head of Samaria Regional Council, said at a protest on Sunday after a car was fired on at a settlement near Nablus.

"This morning it was in Samaria and tomorrow it will be everywhere in Israel," he said, using a Biblical name sometimes used by Israelis for an area of the West Bank.

Israeli officials blame the PA, which exercises limited rule in the West Bank, for failing to control factions like the Iran-linked Islamic Jihad movement, target of 56-hour Israeli air strikes into Gaza in August.

The PA, deeply unpopular in the West Bank and under pressure from the more radical Hamas, says its hands are tied by Israel and it cannot prevent violence against Palestinians by settlers who enjoy army protection.


Many of the fighters whose portraits plaster the Old City and the refugee camps in any case had little connection with established factions and instead belonged to loose groups with names like the "Den of Lions", with little clear agenda beyond hostility to the Israeli occupation.

For the moment, given divisions in the Palestinian leadership, few expect a repeat of the two Intifadas, or revolts, of the 1980s and early 2000s, which entrenched the deep divide between Israel and the Palestinians.

"There isn't the infrastructure for resistance," said one veteran official of the mainstream Fatah party, who spent years in an Israeli jail. "In the First Intifada, there were universities, the unions, society was ready for it."

The growing violence has raised international alarm, including from the United States, Israel's closest ally. But there is little sign of change from the main Israeli parties' positions on the Palestinian issue ahead of the election.

With no sign of a wider political solution to the conflict, the official focus is control, summed up in the expression used to describe the army's approach: "mowing the grass".

"Anyone who wants to carry out shooting attacks and kill Israeli civilians is in our crosshairs," Defence Minister Benny Gantz said last week.

(Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)