Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 17:58 UK

Israel 'soft' on settler attacks

Palestinian peasant Thamam al-Nawaja after beating by settlers from Susia
Palestinian civilians regularly get into clashes with Israeli settlers

Nine out of 10 investigations into alleged attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers end without anyone being charged, a rights group says.

The Israeli group Yesh Din says of 163 cases that it looked at only 13 ended with assailants being indicted.

Israeli police disputed the findings, but admitted just 15% of cases in the West Bank in 2007 ended in a charge.

There are frequent reports of settlers harassing Palestinians, with two attacks recently captured on video.

The police questioned Yesh Din's methodology, focussing on a selected group of cases over a number of years. The group countered, saying this was because the police did not publish comprehensive breakdowns.

Alibis not checked

Yesh Din says police rarely visit crime scenes, often failed to collect witness testimonies and statements from suspects, and hardly ever arrange identity parades.

Screen grob of Israeli settler about to beat Palestinian civilian
One recent incident was filmed as part of a human rights project
It also says that sometimes suspects' alibis were not checked out, according to case files which it examined.

The group said the cases included alleged assaults on Palestinians, seizure of their land, damaging trees, crops or agricultural equipment, arson and theft.

A spokesman for Israel's West Bank police force told AP news agency that there were 195 investigations last year, resulting in 30 indictments, giving about a 50% higher success rate than the Yesh Din findings.

Two Israelis from Susia settlement were recently arrested over an assault of Palestinians that was filmed as part of a human rights project.

They were held for two days before being released to house arrest, police say, and charges have yet to be filed.

Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war and has planted hundreds of thousands of its citizens in heavily guarded settlements there.

Israeli human rights groups have long accused the authorities of showing little interest in punishing Israeli civilians who harass Palestinians and say only a small proportion of cases are ever reported.

An Israeli police spokesman told the BBC their priorities in the West Bank are to deal with terrorism against Israelis as well as criminal and public order offences, and resources are allocated accordingly.

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