JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians who allegedly opened fire at troops from their car in the northern West Bank on Tuesday, authorities said, the latest incident in a wave of deadly violence gripping the occupied territory.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the two men killed in the West Bank village of Deir al Hatab as Saud Abdullah Saud and Mohammed Abu Dira, without saying their ages.
The Israeli military said the men shot at an Israeli outpost near the settlement of Elon Moreh, south of the Palestinian city of Nablus. Israeli soldiers on patrol opened fire, killing the two alleged gunmen.
Palestinian media reported that a third gunman was in the car during the drive-by shooting and fled the area. Israeli security forces said they were searching for other suspected assailants and found a pair of M-16 rifles and a pistol at the scene.
The local armed group of the Balata refugee camp, a militant stronghold near Nablus, identified the two men as militants, sharing photos of them brandishing M-16s in the camp. Saud had previously spent 15 years in Israeli prison, the group said.
“We fought as soldiers and we promise we will always be soldiers,” Saud said in a video after being freed from prison last spring.
Tuesday’s deaths followed a week of unusually heightened violence in Israel and the West Bank, touched off by an Israeli police raid on Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, the compound home to the Al-Aqsa mosque. Last week, the Israeli military struck sites linked to the Palestinian group Hamas in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip after militants in the two territories fired salvos of rockets at Israel. The mosque sits on a contested hilltop revered as the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.
Underscoring the ever-combustible situation in the West Bank, two British-Israeli sisters and their mother were killed when their car came under fire near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last Friday. The mother, Lucy Dee, succumbed to her wounds on Monday and was laid to rest in the settlement of Kfar Etzion south of Jerusalem on Tuesday. Hundreds of mourners packed the funeral, singing and swaying as Lucy’s husband, Leo, and his remaining children wept at the podium — their family of seven reduced to four.
“Lucy, I have a choice: I could lament over the next 25 years of marriage that I’ve lost, but I actually feel blessed to have had 25 years of a beautiful marriage with you,” Leo said, his voice cracking in anguish.
He added: “If we support the good and reject the evil, then we can all play our part in building a better world.”
Last week, in a separate incident, an Italian tourist was killed and five others were wounded when a Palestinian’s car careened onto a bike path near the beach in Tel Aviv in what authorities described as a suspected terrorist attack. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he offered condolences to his Italian counterpart during a phone call Tuesday.
So far this year, 94 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, according to a tally by The Associated Press, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups. During that time, 19 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
With the country battling threats on multiple fronts, Netanyahu on Monday reversed his decision to fire his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who expressed opposition to the government’s divisive plans to weaken the judiciary last month. Gallant praised the Israeli military’s killing of the Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday.
In a step toward deescalating the situation, Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday that authorities would bar Jewish visits to Al-Aqsa, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, for the remainder of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. That’s standard for the final 10 days of the holiday, when Muslims often pray at the site overnight.
Jews are permitted to visit the compound, but not pray there, under longstanding agreements. But such visits, which have grown in numbers in recent years, have stoked anger, particularly because some Jews are often seen quietly praying.
The rare convergence of the Jewish Passover festival and Ramadan brought scores of religious Jews to the site last week and fueled tensions that spiraled into unrest in Jerusalem — and a regional confrontation.