HAWARA, West Bank (AP) — A suspected Palestinian gunman on Monday shot and killed an Israeli motorist in the occupied West Bank, the latest bloodshed in a fresh wave of fighting that showed no signs of slowing.
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The killing occurred a day after two Israelis were killed by a Palestinian gunman in the northern West Bank, triggering a rampage in which Israeli settlers torched dozens of cars and homes in a Palestinian town and one Palestinian was killed. It was the worst such violence in decades.
The Israeli army said Monday’s attackers opened fire at an Israeli car near the Palestinian city of Jericho, hitting the motorist.
The assailants, traveling in one vehicle, then drove further and fired again, the army said. The attackers set their own vehicle afire and fled, setting off a manhunt.
The 27-year-old Israeli motorist was transferred to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he later died of his injuries, the hospital said. The man was not immediately identified, but the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said the man held American citizenship.
Earlier, Israel sent hundreds more troops to the northern West Bank to restore calm after Sunday’s violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, came under criticism for its failure to halt a surge in violence and for sending what some saw as mixed messages. As Netanyahu appealed for calm, a member of his ruling coalition praised the rampage as deterrence against Palestinian attacks.
The Israeli army also came under criticism for its failure to move quickly to stop the rioting, the worst such violence in decades.
“The government needs to decide what it is,” veteran columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. “Is it resolved to enforce law and order on Arabs and Jews alike? Or is it a fig leaf for the hilltop youth, who do as they please in the territories? That same question also applies to the army, which has thus far failed to deal effectively with either Palestinian terrorism or Jewish terrorism.”
The events also underscored the limitations of the traditional U.S. approach to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Washington has been trying to prevent escalation while staying away from the politically costly task of pushing for a resolution of the core disputes.
As the violence raged in the West Bank, such an attempt at conflict management was taking place Sunday in Jordan, with the U.S. bringing together Israeli and Palestinian officials to work out a plan for de-escalation.
Sunday’s events kicked off when a Palestinian gunman shot and killed brothers Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, ages 21 and 19, from the Jewish settlement of Har Bracha, in a shooting ambush in the Palestinian town of Hawara in the northern West Bank. The gunman fled and remained on the loose late Monday. The brothers were buried in Jerusalem.
Following the shooting, groups of settlers rampaged along the main thoroughfare in Hawara, which is used by both Palestinians and Israeli settlers. In one video, a crowd of settlers stood in prayer as they stared at a building in flames.
Late Sunday, a 37-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed by Israeli fire, two Palestinians were shot and wounded and another was beaten with an iron bar, Palestinian health officials said. Some 95 Palestinians were being treated for tear gas inhalation, according to medics.
On Monday morning, the Hawara thoroughfare was lined with rows of burned-out cars and smoke-blackened buildings. Normally bustling shops remained shuttered. Palestinian media said some 30 homes and cars were torched.
Sultan Farouk Abu Sris, a shop owner in Hawara, said he briefly went outside and saw scores of settlers setting containers and a home on fire. “It’s destruction. They came bearing hatred,” he said.
At the scene of the shooting, Defense Minister Yoav Galant told reporters that Israel “cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their hands,” but stopped short of outright condemning the violence.
Shahar Glick, a reporter for Israel’s army radio station who was in Hawara, said security forces blocked the roads into town, but were caught off guard when 200 to 300 settlers entered on foot.
He said only a handful of police and soldiers were there, even after activists had publicized the march on social media. The area is home to a number of hard-line settlements whose residents frequently vandalize Palestinian land and property.
Some police, Glick said, even wished the protesters well, telling them to “take care of themselves.”
“For the journalists, It was clear to us from the outset, as we walked behind them, that this incident was developing,” Glick said. “It took a long time for the security forces to understand.”
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army deployed hundreds of additional troops to the area with the aim of de-escalation. Two battalions were sent late Sunday and two more on Monday, with several hundred soldiers each.
The situation remained quiet late Monday, though the army reported several cases of settler violence toward soldiers. In one instance, it said an Israeli driver tried to ram a military officer. It said soldiers fired at the tires of the vehicle, which sped away.
Israeli police spokesman Dean Elsdunne said eight Israelis were detained in connection with Sunday’s rioting. Six were released and two were released to home arrest, he said.
Speaking at a settlement outpost reoccupied by Jewish settlers after Sunday’s shooting, the firebrand Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Jewish Power party, called for a “real war on terrorism” and legalizing the outpost, which troops were once again clearing.
As for the settler violence, he added: “I understand the hard feelings, but this isn’t the way, we can’t take the law into our hands.”
Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog urged settlers not to engage in vigilante actions. Merav Michaeli of the opposition Labor Party condemned the rampage as “a pogrom by armed militias” of West Bank settlers.
In the ruling coalition, some fanned the flames.
Tzvika Foghel, a lawmaker from Ben-Gvir’s party, said the rampage would help deter Palestinian attacks. “I see the result in a very good light,” he told Army Radio.
Sunday’s violence has drawn condemnation from the international community. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the shooting attack and the rampage “underscore the imperative to immediately de-escalate tensions in words and deeds.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held the Israeli government responsible for what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces tonight.”
The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for a future state. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The international community overwhelmingly considers Israel’s settlements as illegal and obstacles to peace.
So far this year, 62 Palestinians, about half of them affiliated with armed groups, have been killed by Israeli troops and civilians. In the same period, 14 Israelis, all but one of them civilians, have been killed in Palestinian attacks.
Last year was the deadliest for the Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since 2004, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in those areas, Some 30 people on the Israeli side were killed in Palestinian attacks.
Ben Zion reported from Jerusalem.
Majdi Mohammed And Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press