Benjamin Netanyahu denounces “a heinous crime” after the assassination of an Israeli teenager in the West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced “a heinous crime” after the discovery on Saturday of the body of a young Israeli shepherd “murdered” in the occupied West Bank, where his disappearance the day before triggered an outbreak of violence against the Palestinians. Benjamin Achimeir, 14, disappeared Friday morning while grazing his sheep near the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyir, near Ramallah, some 500 meters from farms owned by Israeli settlers.

A vast manhunt was immediately launched by the army, and hundreds of civilians, including many settlers, fanned out into the surrounding hills and fields to try to find him. The boy’s body was located Saturday midday not far from his pastures and the Malachei HaShalom farms. “Benjamin Achimeir was assassinated in a terrorist attack,” the army, police and domestic intelligence service Shin Beth said in a statement.

Israeli security forces are engaged “in the intensive pursuit of the despicable assassins and all those who collaborated with them”, said Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement sent to AFP, denouncing “a heinous crime”.

The head of government also called on “all Israeli citizens to allow the security forces to do their work without hindrance”, without directly mentioning the armed settlers who for the past 24 hours have been attacking Palestinian villages in the region.

These attacks continued on Saturday, with an AFP journalist on site testifying to shootings and stone throwing targeting localities and vehicles traveling in the area. They have left at least one dead and around thirty injured, including many by gunshots, since Friday, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health.

Smoking carcasses

The attackers fired live ammunition and set fire to dozens of houses and vehicles while residents responded with stone throwing. The Palestinian news agency Wafa also reported on Saturday that five Palestinians were injured in the village of Abu Falah, near Ramallah, in a settler attack. Al-Muhayyir bore the scars of the violence on Saturday morning. Around houses or sheds with walls blackened by flames, the charred carcasses of cars, vans or agricultural machinery still smoking, noted an AFP photographer. Here, a goat lying in a pool of blood, there trees devoured by fire.

Some dazed residents explored the remains of their house, of which only the skeleton of concrete blocks and the gaping windows overlooking the plain remained. On the side of the roads, dozens of cars burned and roadblocks set up by the army to search vehicles. This violence comes against a backdrop of increased violence in the Palestinian territory since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 7.

At least 462 Palestinians were killed there by Israeli soldiers or settlers, according to the Palestinian Authority, which exercises partial administrative control over the West Bank. The UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese, urged Friday “the UN to authorize the deployment of a protective presence” in the territories. “The Israeli army has amply demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to accomplish this mission,” she said.

The war in the Gaza Strip was sparked by an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli soil on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures. Israel launched a retaliatory military operation in Gaza which left 33,686 dead, mainly civilians, according to Hamas.

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