A Palestinian attacker kills at least 4 people at a West Bank gas station
JERUSALEM — A Palestinian attacker opened fire at a gas station near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank on Tuesday, killing at least four people and wounding several others before being shot, authorities said, as violence continued to roil the occupied territory.
Israeli security forces said they also shot and killed another Palestinian assailant who later fled the shooting scene. The Hamas militant group claimed both assailants as members.
The attack underscored the fragility of the situation in the West Bank, where on Monday an Israeli military raid into the northern Jenin refugee camp ignited some of the fiercest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years, killing six Palestinians and wounding scores more. Palestinian militants targeted Israeli military vehicles with powerful roadside bombs and Israeli forces deployed helicopter gunships to evacuate stranded troops.
The surge in violence has killed 128 Palestinians and 24 people on the Israeli side so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press, prompting many on either side of the conflict to fear a possible greater conflagration.
The Israeli military said it was sending reinforcements to the West Bank and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "settle the score with the murderers."
"I want to tell all those who seek to harm us — all options are open," he said in a video statement. "We will continue to fight terror with all our might and we will win."
Later on Tuesday, a few carloads of Israeli settlers, outraged by the fatal shootings, drove to the northern Palestinian towns of Hawara and Burin and hurled stones at Palestinian houses and smashed cars.
Hawara was the scene of a deadly rampage earlier this year in which Israeli settlers set dozens of homes and cars on fire and left one Palestinian dead after a Palestinian militant attack killed two Israeli brothers.
A gang of settlers on Tuesday set fire to a Palestinian's car, said Nablus official Ghassan Daghlas, and tried to burn two Palestinian homes. Some settlers opened fire toward Palestinians who ventured out of their homes to throw stones at them, he added. He said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the two Hamas-affiliated gunmen had driven to the shooting scene from the Palestinian village of Urif in the northern West Bank. The men went on a rampage at a gas station next to the Israeli settlement of Eli, the Israeli military said, north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. They first burst into a hummus restaurant, shooting and killing three people, the army said, before heading out to the gas station and killing another person who was pumping gas into his car.
A civilian bystander shot one of the assailants repeatedly until he collapsed to the ground, unmoving. His condition was not immediately confirmed but medics were later seen carrying him away in a body bag. Hamas identified him as Mohannad Shehada. The second assailant fled the gas station in a stolen Toyota.
After an hourslong manhunt, Israeli security forces caught him in the West Bank town of Tubas, shooting and killing him when he tried to run out of his car. Palestinian health officials identified the man as 24-year-old Khaled Sabah.
The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack as a response to Monday's deadly military raid.
"Revolutionaries in the West Bank are striking everywhere, and specifically where (Israel) does not expect it," said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, describing the shooting as a "reaction to the crimes of the occupation in the Jenin camp."
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was set to meet with Israel's army chief and other top security officials to discuss a response to the shooting as pressure grows from Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners for a harsh crackdown on the wave of Palestinian violence.
"Now is the time for a military operation in Judea and Samaria," said Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, using the biblical term for the West Bank. From the scene of the attack, he demanded that the government launch "targeted assassinations from the air," "take down buildings," deport Palestinian assailants and impose the death penalty on terrorists.
The head of the Yesha Council, the Israeli settlers' umbrella organization, echoed the call for a "broad (military) operation."
"We cannot continue to absorb these blows and hope the wave of terrorism will just pass," said Shlomo Ne'eman.
The Israeli rescue service said that one person remained in serious condition, two people in moderate condition and another in light condition. Medics reported that they found seven people suffering from gunshot wounds in the hummus restaurant and the outside gas station. The identities and nationalities of the victims were not immediately clear.
Tuesday's shooting followed fighting in the northern Jenin refugee camp that killed six Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, and wounded over 90 others. On Tuesday, the death toll from the raid rose to six when 48-year-old Amjad Abu Jaas succumbed to wounds sustained in the gunbattle, Palestinian health officials said. A dozen Palestinians remain in critical condition. Eight Israeli soldiers were also wounded.
After the deadly raid, Palestinians rushed to checkpoints to throw stones at Israeli military vehicles in protest. In the Palestinian town of Husan, west of Bethlehem, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man who they alleged threw a firebomb at troops along a West Bank highway late Monday. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man killed as 21-year-old Zakaria al-Zaoul.
Israel and the Palestinian territories have been gripped by months of violence, fueled by several factors. Rising militancy among a new generation of Palestinians, the new far-right government's hard-line stance against the Palestinians and an escalating Israeli military crackdown on the West Bank have all worked to fuel violence and undermine efforts to calm tensions.
Israel has been staging near-nightly raids in the West Bank in response to a spasm of Palestinian violence early last year. Israel says most of the 128 Palestinian dead this year were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.
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