HAWARA, West Bank (AP) — Two Israelis were killed in a suspected Palestinian shooting attack on a car wash in a volatile stretch of the occupied West Bank on Saturday, the latest outburst of violence to rock the region.
The Israeli military said it was searching for suspects and setting up roadblocks near the town of Hawara, a flashpoint area in the northern West Bank, which has seen repeated attacks including one deadly shooting that triggered a rampage by Jewish West Bank settlers who torched Palestinian property.
Saturday’s shooting attack came after Palestinian medics reported that a 19-year-old Palestinian died of wounds sustained in an Israeli military raid into the West Bank on Wednesday.
The latest attack is part of a relentless spiral of violence that has fueled the worst fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank in nearly two decades. Since spring last year, Israel has launched near-nightly raids in Palestinian towns in response to deadly Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 180 Palestinians have been killed since the start of this year and some 29 people have been killed by Palestinian attacks against Israelis during that time, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But stone throwing youths protesting the incursions and those not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.
Israeli paramedics said that when they arrived at the Hawara car wash, two Israeli males, aged 60 and 29, were found unconscious with gunshot wounds. Israeli media reported the two were father and son and identified them as Shay Silas Nigreka and his Aviad Nir from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
Underscoring the severity of the attack, the country’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, visited the scene.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the family and vowed that the military would track down the shooter.
“The security forces are working diligently to find the murderer and settle accounts, just as we have done with all the murderers so far,” Netanyahu said.
Videos circulating online showed Israeli soldiers walking across a pool of blood at the car wash to help move two bodies on stretchers to awaiting ambulances.
Several Israelis have been killed in Hawara in the current round of fighting. The death of two brothers, residents of a nearby settlement, last February set off a rampage by settlers through the town. Crowds of settlers torched dozens of cars and homes in some of the worst such violence in decades.
Similar settler mob violence has taken place elsewhere in the West Bank since. Israeli rights groups say settler violence has worsened and that radical settlers have become emboldened because Israel’s far-right government has settler leaders in key positions who have vowed to take an especially hard line against the Palestinians.
After the deadly February shooting in Hawara, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a firebrand settler supporter, called for Israel to “erase” the town from the map. He later walked back the remark after fierce criticism.
Palestinian militant groups praised the shooting attack, with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad congratulating the perpetrators. Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Al-Qanou called the attack a “heroic shooting operation.” But the groups stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.
Also on Saturday, 19-year-old Palestinian militant Mohammad Abu Asab died of a gunshot wound to the head suffered Wednesday during an Israeli military raid on the Balata refugee camp near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. At the time, the Israeli military had said that it raided Balata seeking to destroy an underground weapons factory when a gunfight erupted. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party, claimed Abu Asab as a member.
Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. Palestinians say the raids undermine their security forces, inspire more militancy and entrench Israeli control over lands they seek for a hoped-for future state.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Some 700,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, while Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.
McNeil contributed from Jerusalem.