A 34-year-old Palestinian activist was killed on Wednesday in clashes with Israeli forces in Nablus, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, and at least 16 others were wounded, amid a spike in tensions in the West Bank in the aftermath of a string of deadly attacks in Israel.
Mohammed Assaf was hit by live fire in the chest, the Health Ministry said. Assaf was a lawyer and acted against the separation barrier and the settlements. A source said that Assaf, a resident of Kafr Laqif and a father of two, was escorting his cousin to school in the vicinity of Joshep's Tomb and was not involved in the clashes.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said that 10 people were wounded by live fire and six by sponge-tipped bullets in the village of Beita and Joseph's Tomb. The Health Ministry mentioned further casualties in the area. The Israeli army later said in a statement that dozens of Palestinians rioted in the scene and that troops responded with riot-control measures and live fire.
Israel has sent troops to comb through Palestinians cities and villages in recent days, looking for suspects or accomplices tied to recent Palestinian attacks on Israelis. According to an IDF statement, 15 Palestinians were arrested in an overnight operation. Last week, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a packed Tel Aviv bar, killing three and fleeing the scene, sparking an hours-long manhunt that culminated in his killing by police.
Meanwhile, Palestinians reported that in Tul Karm two were wounded by a special Israeli forces, one suffered a head injury. The force also detained a university official. Witnesses say that the detainee is a guard working for the university. A police statement confirmed the report adding that they shot the suspect as he was trying to flee the scene. Police also said that during the operation they identified a gunman and open fire at him.
According to a statement by the IDF spokesperson unit, three Hamas operatives were arrested near Qalqilyah after clashes began. An IDF soldier was ightly wounded.
Yahya Sinwar, the head of the Palestinian Hamas movement, is expected to meet Wednesday with leaders of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to discuss "Israeli aggression."
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The Arabic daily Al Ra'i, published in London, said Egypt is working to prevent the violence from further escalating citing Palestinians sources.
According to the report, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have warned that if violence in the West Bank continues they would have to also engage.
In a military raid in the Jenin area, in the northern West Bank, shots were fired at an Israeli force, but no casualties were reported. While the army confirmed it was operating in the area, witnesses said the force apprehended Musab Hanaisheh, a student leader affiliated with Hamas.
Clashes were also reported near the Jewish holy site of Joseph's Tomb, located in the Nablus area, which was vandalized and torched on Saturday. Residents said that military forces were deployed in big numbers around the flashpoint site as repair works were underway, and two Palestinians were reported wounded by rubber-tipped bullets in clashes that erupted at around 6 A.M., according to reports Palestinians have hurled stones, set tires ablaze and even open fire at the site, however, the tomb suffered no damage. The Israeli army is currently responding with riot-control measures as people are making their out of the site after the repair works.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav said that some 100 Palestinians marched toward the site, rioted and then torched the tomb before they were dispersed by Palestinian security forces. Images on social media showed parts of the tomb inside the shrine smashed and charred. The army confirmed that it's activity across the West Bank in a statement it had released later on Wednesday.
The incident drew condemnation from Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who said that Israel is taking action to capture the vandals and said: "We will not accept such an attack, in a holy place, on the eve of Passover, and we will get the rioters."
Israel's government has sought to lower the flames by moving ahead on its plan to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the holy month. But, with two of the attackers in the recent violence from Jenin and the surrounding area, Israel has tightened restrictions on movement in and out of the city.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.