JERUSALEM – Palestinians held more than a dozen Israeli settlers for about two hours Tuesday in retaliation for the latest in a string of settler attacks on villages in the area, witnesses said.
Human rights groups have reported an increase in attacks by militant settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank in recent years.
However, Tuesday's incident appeared to mark the first time settlers were detained by Palestinians.
Palestinians involved in the incident said they notified Palestinian police and the Israeli military after detaining the settlers.
An Associated Press photographer said about 200 Palestinians had gathered by the time the troops arrived. People in the crowd kicked and spit at the settlers as they emerged one by one from the building under construction where they had been held, the photographer said.
The Israeli military said it had received word of a stone-throwing clash between settlers and Palestinian farmers and that it later evacuated 11 settlers with light and moderate injuries from the building.
The incident began at about 10:30 a.m. near the West Bank village of Qusra, southeast of the city of Nablus, said Ziad Odeh, the Muslim prayer leader in Qusra and a member of the village council.
He said about 25 to 30 settlers, many of them masked, attacked Qusra farmers in an olive grove with sticks and stones, injuring a Palestinian boy in the head. A clash ensued, farmers called for reinforcements and about 100 youths arrived from the village, Odeh said.
The settlers ran away and the villagers gave chase, said Odeh and another witness, village resident Abdel Hakim Wadi.
They said several of the settlers briefly sought cover in the building, located on the edge of the village of Karyout, about 2.5 miles from Qusra.
Villagers grabbed them however and turned the building into a holding area where they also put other settlers they chased down in the area, Odeh said.
Some of the settlers were tied up, and most had beating injuries, said the AP photographer.
Odeh said the beatings stopped after the settlers were seized.
"When they were caught, they were beaten, but after we brought them to the building, we did not let anyone beat them," said Odeh, adding that the captives were given water and tissues for their wounds.
Odeh said the settlers involved in the attack on the Qusra farmers were in their late teens and 20s.
The military said the chain of events apparently began after Israeli authorities removed an illegally built structure in Esh Kodesh, a rogue settlement in the area.
In recent years, militant settlers have often responded to any attempts by the Israeli military to remove parts of dozens of rogue settlements, or outposts, by attacking Palestinians and their property.
The tactic, begun in 2008, is known as "price tag."
Villages in the area have repeatedly come under attack by militant settlers, said Odeh, adding that assailants also set fire to four area mosques in the last three years.
A U.N. monitor says that from 2006 to August 2013, there were 630 settler-related attacks on Palestinians and 1,344 attacks on their property, with the pace of incidents rising since 2008. In all, 10 Palestinians were killed and 1,040 injured in such attacks, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
During the same period, 29 Israeli civilians were killed and 368 injured by Palestinians in the West Bank, OCHA said.
In other developments Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said a framework proposal on all issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be presented to both sides in a few weeks.
Dan Shapiro told Israel Radio that the proposal will include security arrangements, borders, Jerusalem and all the other "core issues."
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his latest mediating mission, part of an attempt to forge agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the outlines of a peace deal.