Palestinian villagers detain, beat alleged settler assailants

Palestinian villagers on Tuesday briefly detained and beat up a group of Israeli settlers, accusing them of having thrown rocks at farmers tending their fields in the occupied West Bank.

The incident - the details of which were disputed by a representative of a nearby settlement - stoked tensions long simmering on land where Palestinians seek statehood under struggling U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations with Israel.

The Israelis, who appeared to be aged between 15 and 30, were detained in an uninhabited house on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Qusra after Palestinians said there had been a settler assault on local farmers.

"I was tending my fields when a group of around 30 settlers came down the hill and attacked us with stones," Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Tubasi told Reuters.

"We chased them and they fled to a house under construction. They were cornered there and some of the people here beat them - they had attacked us on our own land."

A Reuters witness said villagers beat 15 settlers with their fists and sticks, causing some to bleed from the head and mouth. The Palestinians later released the group to Israeli soldiers.

The army said it recovered 11 Israelis who had taken part in a stone-throwing confrontation with Palestinians which followed the evacuation, by Israeli police, of an unauthorised building in the nearby settlement of Esh Kodesh.

"PRICE TAG"

Some far-right settlers have responded to Israeli government efforts to rein them in with so-called "price tag" attacks on Palestinian property. The vandalism is designed to stir up sectarian tensions and discourage Israeli authorities.

An Esh Kodesh settler disputed the accounts of both the Palestinian villagers and the Israeli army, however.

The settler, Aharon Katsov, told Israel Radio that the young men held at Qusra "were not right-wing activists ... They were touring the area, and they (Palestinians) came along and lynched them - almost killed them".

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