For a third day in a row, Israeli forces appeared in large numbers around the southern West Bank town of Beit Ummar March 28, installing road gates and fence posts in a move residents fear will close them in and stifle the population center. Local activist Mohammad Ayyad Awad told Ma’an News Agency that the installation of the infrastructure is impeding freedom of movement in the town, saying residents with cars were not permitted entry and exit for most of the day. Awwad said the installations were part of Israeli military preparations to fence the town in, and prevent residents from accessing the surrounding areas.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the work, saying in a statement, that “In response to incidents of rock throwing at Israeli cars driving from the village of Beit Omer [sic], a number of temporary blocks were placed at certain entrances to the village (though not including the main entrance) in an attempt to stymie such actions.”
According to his observations, Awwad said the fence would stretch 150 meters along the town’s southern flank, closing it off from the Bethlehem-Hebron road, and would have a height of at least seven meters. Metal gates, he added, were being installed on the street leading from the town to the cemetery.
Last week a settler opened fire on Beit Ummar residents at a funeral procession as they walked to the cemetery, injuring two, one critically. Reports in the Israeli press said the mourner had thrown rocks at the settler car, before the driver parked, disembarked and fired on the gathered mourners. The incident followed growing tension between settlers in the area, and Beit Ummar residents, who until March held regular Saturday protests against ongoing land confiscations by the nearby settlement of Karmi Zur.
Residents feared settler violence when rightist groups announced that a “price tag” policy would be carried out against Palestinians first for the Israeli government decision to demolish an illegal settler outpost in the northern West Bank. “Price tag” attacks were also pledged for the grisly murder of five members of a settler family, which Israeli political leaders said was perpetrated by Palestinian militants, though police have not yet identified a suspect. (Ma’an News Agency, March 28)