Israel's Smotrich walks back call for Palestinian town to be 'wiped out'

Israel's Smotrich walks back call for Palestinian town to be 'wiped out'
Israel's finance minister Bezalel Smotrich has retracted his comments from earlier this week after a severe international backlash, when he had called for the Palestinian town of Hawara to be 'wiped out'.
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Smotrich last week called for a Palestinian town to be 'wiped out' [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel's finance minister said Saturday he had chosen his words poorly when he called for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be "wiped out" after Israeli settlers rampaged through it. 

Bezalel Smotrich's comments followed last Sunday's settler rampage through the town, where hundreds of Israeli settlers set fire to homes and cars, and killed one Palestinian. 

"I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out," Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, said on Wednesday.

Smotrich appeared to backtrack on his words on local television on Saturday.

"It is possible that the word was wrong," Smotrich said.

On the same day, he also tweeted: "I did not mean harm to innocents when I said that Huwara should be wiped out".

Smotrich's comments had drawn international condemnation, with the UN human rights chief Volker Turk denouncing them as "an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility".

Washington, a staunch ally of Israel, was more blunt in its response.

"They were irresponsible, they were repugnant, they were disgusting," US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Representatives from 19 countries - including France, Germany, Japan and the UK - visited Huwara on Saturday.

A joint statement released by the group said they "condemn in the strongest terms the heinous and violent acts committed by settlers".

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Smotrich, like other right wing members of the Israeli cabinet, is known for making incendiary comments and inciting violence against Palestinians. He has repeatedly encouraged the building of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. 

On 26 February, Huwara was attacked by scores of violent Jewish settlers who set fire to homes, cars and trees. One Palestinian, Sameh Aqtash, a 37-year-old Palestinian relief worker from Zaatara, was killed in the attack.

The settlers' rampage was described by one Israeli army general as a "pogrom."

The attack started following the killing of two Israeli settlers in Huwara by a Palestinian shooter, after Israel's massacre of 11 Palestinians in Nablus.