Tensions are high in the West Bank after hundreds of rampaging illegal Israeli settlers set Palestinian homes and cars ablaze, while a Palestinian man was killed in the nearby village of Zaatara.
Young Palestinian men, carrying long sticks and with their faces wrapped in chequered keffiyeh scarves, set out on a night patrol to guard their village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Each night, the team gathers at Turmus Ayya in the north of the West Bank, ready to raise the alarm in the event of a raid by Israeli settlers, who have set up bases in outposts around the village.
"We do not intend to attack anyone –– we work to defend our people and our village, our home, our land and our honour," one said, requesting anonymity for fear of arrest by Israeli forces.
"These are our weapons –– sticks and flashlights –– and we have nothing but them to defend ourselves", he said, raising a baton and a powerful electric torch.
Tensions are high, especially after the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara came under attack by illegal Israeli settlers on Sunday, hours after two Israelis were shot dead as they drove past.
Hundreds of rampaging settlers –– 300 to 400 people, according to the Israeli army –– set homes and cars ablaze, while a Palestinian man was killed in the nearby village of Zaatara.
After the attack, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant deplored the situation as "intolerable" and warned that Israel "cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their (own) hands".
Police said they had made a handful of arrests.
Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, however, was quoted as saying following the attack that Huwara should be “wiped out”.
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One of the leaders of the patrol that as a result of the attack, "we have become more vigilant than before".
The team first formed last year after tensions with the settlers rose following a clash, but they increased patrols after attacks this year, moving around on foot or on off-road buggies. Some carry baseball bats.
"We, the youth, formed guard committees... we take turns with each other to fend off any possible attack," another said.
Turmus Ayya, home to some 4,000 people, many of them Palestinian-Americans, has seen a number of recent attacks by settlers.
In January, a Palestinian home and vehicle were torched in the village, in an arson attack in which Israeli extremists were the suspected perpetrators, an Israeli security official told AFP.
"The village is surrounded by settlement outposts, and every two weeks there is an assault," another member of the defence group said.
In recent weeks, a group of settlers were seen coming close to the village, but on spotting the patrol, they retreated.
Excluding Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians as well as an estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers, who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.
The young men move in groups, monitoring the area from a hilltop to watch for any movement from the settlers on hills across the valley.
Abdul Karim al-Zaghloul, a Palestinian-American from Ohio who was visiting family in the village, brought cups of hot tea to the young men on a cold night.
"We are ready for any attack, God willing," another patrol member said.
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