By Ali Sawafta
QARAWAT BANI HASSAN, WEST BANK (Reuters) -Residents of a town in the West Bank where a man died during a raid by Israeli settlers said on Sunday the incursions had become more brazen since the start of the war with Gaza and troops were standing by and letting the raids go on.
The comments came a day after residents said settlers raided two Palestinian communities in the north of the occupied West Bank, burning cars and clashing with residents who came out to confront them.
"They besieged the houses, burned the cars, pushed the car down a hill and burned it, and the soldier stood there and did not say a thing," said Mustafa Mohammad, a resident of Qarawat Bani Hassan, where a 38 year-old man was shot dead.
The Israeli military said soldiers had arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal means and live fire to break up the confrontation between residents and settlers.
It said Palestinians shot fireworks in response and an Israeli and four Palestinians were injured. The incident was being examined and had been handed over to police, it said.
The Palestinian ambulance service confirmed the death and said the funeral of the man, named as Ahmed Assi, was held on Sunday.
Jamal Miree, another resident, said Saturday's incident was sparked by a dispute which started when Palestinians drove off an Israeli settler who had taken his sheep into Palestinian olive groves where they damaged trees.
"After they drove him out, he brought 20 settlers with them, and they attacked houses, throwing stones and damaging and burning in the cars. I asked him why he was burning it, and the soldier was next to him," he said.
In another incident, Wajih Al-Qat, head of the local council of the village of Madama near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, said a group of about 15 settlers burned the car and broke the windows of a house with stones.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the incident.
The attacks were the latest in a series of similar events involving settlers that have drawn condemnation from world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration is set to impose visa bans on extremist settlers.
"Violence is escalating. Previously, the army would come and would talk to you, and would let you both leave," said Mustafa Mohammad, who was attending the funeral, adding that a soldier did not intervene when he saw settlers firing weapons.
"He saw the settlers, where some of them had weapons and were shooting, it was fine with him. But if you were standing 200 meters from the settler telling him to go away, he (soldier) would shoot you. Why is this happening?"
Israeli authorities insist they will not tolerate unauthorized use of force by Israeli civilians against Palestinians, but Palestinians and human rights groups have long accused army units of standing by while violence occurs.
The West Bank, which the Palestinians regard as part of a future independent state, has seen a surge of violence in recent months as Jewish settlements have continued to expand and U.S.-backed peacemaking efforts have stalled for nearly a decade.
The violence, already at a more than 15-year high this year, surged further after Israel launched an invasion of the separate enclave of Gaza in response to the deadly attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Yesh Din, a human rights group that monitors settler violence, said there had been at least 225 incidents of settler violence in 93 Palestinian communities since the war started.
Prior to Saturday's incident, it said at least nine Palestinians had been killed in such attacks since Oct. 7.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Holmes)