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Israel

3 police officers injured in operation to arrest fugitive settler in Yitzhar

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Security forces on Sunday surrounded a building in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar as they tried to arrest a local settler who was defying an army administrative order banning him from being in the area.

Three police officers were arrested in the ensuing melee, during which “dozens of young men rioted and used severe violence, including throwing rocks, paint bottles and other objects” at the officers, police said in a statement. Damage was also caused to police vehicles.

According to local reports, 15 protesters were also hurt.

The order against Neria Zarog, a 21-year-old father of two, has been a catalyst to months of confrontations between local settlers and security forces. Zarog is a shepherd living in the illegal Kumi Ori outpost, a southern neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement whose residents have clashed with Israel Defense Forces troops several times in the past.

Zarog attached himself to a “heavy metal object” inside the home, according to a report from the Kan public broadcaster.

Brief video circulated on social media appeared to show a powered saw being used to cut Zarog loose as he stood in the middle of a room in the building, with his hands restrained behind his back, amid a shower of sparks.

Some two hundred protesters clashed with police as they approached the house where Zarog was hiding — not his own home.

Zarog himself was injured during the attempt to cut him free from the object that he had chained himself to, The Honenu right-wing legal aid organization said.

The Israel Fire and Rescue Services, who were called to the scene, were hampered by protesters who sat in the road, blocking access.

Eyewitnesses told media they heard banging noises as police broke the walls of the building while Zarog could be heard screaming for help from within.

Neria Zarog (c) with his wife and child in front of their home in the Kumi Ori outpost, a neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank. The IDF has issued an order barring him from the West Bank. (Avraham Shapira)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement calling for “the law to be respected and for an immediate halt to violence against security forces.”

“IDF soldiers and Border Police forces, which guard us all, must be allowed to carry out their work,” Netanyahu said. “Violations of the law will not be tolerated.”

Settlers reported that one resident was arrested. A Yitzhar resident also told media that a police officer hit him, causing him to bleed and breaking his eyeglasses.

Honenu said that 15 protesters were injured in the clashes.

At the beginning of September the army’s Central Command issued an order banning Zarog for three months from the northern West Bank, including from his own home.

However, Zarog ignored the order and apparently remained in Yitzhar, evading attempts by police to locate him and remove him from the settlement.

According to a defense official who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, Zarog is a “violent extremist well known to security forces” who has taken part in altercations against Palestinians as well as IDF troops.

Zarog claims he has not taken part in violent activities against Palestinians, but had been detained several times by Israeli security forces after approaching nearby villages with his flock.

Residents of Yitzhar have said tensions between them and security forces began to rise after the administrative order was issued barring Zarog. Yitzhar’s secretariat subsequently cut off ties with the IDF’s top brass, and there have been repeated clashes in the weeks that followed, with settlers damaging security forces’ vehicles and attacking personnel.

Zarog also received support from Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Yamina alliance, who in September penned a letter to Netanyahu urging him to order the cancellation of the administrative order.

In the letter, Smotrich criticized the use of “draconian” administrative orders against settlers, which he argued rob them of due process.

For the past several years, Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts have also been seen by the security establishment as an epicenter of settler violence and have often been linked to attacks on Palestinians and their property.

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