An Israeli-American has been tragically shot and killed in the occupied West Bank, as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue to escalate. The man was killed in an attack on vehicles on a highway near the city of Jericho. The shooting occurred after Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian villages in the West Bank on Sunday night, setting fire to dozens of cars and houses. This attack was in response to two settlers from a nearby village being shot dead by a Palestinian earlier that day.
The Israeli-American man was taken by paramedics to a hospital in Jerusalem, but was later pronounced dead. US Ambassador Tom Nides tweeted: “Sadly, I can confirm that a US citizen was killed in one of the terror attacks in the West Bank tonight. I pray for his family.” The Israeli Defence Forces reported that attackers opened fire on Israeli vehicles on three occasions, and then set their own vehicles on fire. There was an exchange of fire with police before the attackers fled.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip but is less prominent in the West Bank, said the attack was a natural response to Israeli attacks. A spokesman for the Islamist movement stated: “The crimes conducted by the occupation and the herds of settlers will not be met but with stabbing, shooting and car ramming.”
The violence came after Israeli and Palestinian officials had pledged to de-escalate tensions at a summit in Jordan. However, videos posted hours after the summit ended showed a large crowd of Israeli settlers entering the village of Hawara, about 4 miles (6km) south of Nablus, lighting fires and throwing stones. This resulted in 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash being shot in the stomach and killed. Palestinians criticised Israeli security forces for failing to protect them.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held the Israeli government fully responsible for what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by Israeli settlers, under the protection of the Israeli occupation forces”. In response, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appealed for calm and urged settlers to allow the Israeli military and security forces to focus on finding the gunman who killed the two Israelis.
Settlers had called for a march to Hawara in order to “seek revenge” for the deadly attack on Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, who lived in the settlement of Har Bracha. The brothers were driving through Hawara when a Palestinian man rammed their car and then shot them both several times. No Palestinian militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but the gunman was reportedly wearing a shirt bearing the insignia of the Nablus-based Lions’ Den.
Israeli forces have been carrying out waves of search, arrest and intelligence-gathering raids in Nablus and Jenin, saying they are trying to stem the spate of deadly attacks against Israelis by Palestinians. Since the start of this year, more than 60 Palestinians – militants and civilians – have been killed by Israeli forces. On the Israeli side, 14 people have been killed in attacks – all civilians, except for a paramilitary police officer.
The recent violence has highlighted the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Most of the international community considers these settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.