Israel Arrests 20 Palestinians Suspected of Attacking Israeli Hikers in West Bank

The police are inclined to accept the version of a parent accompanying the hikers that he fired in self-defense in shooting and killing a Palestinian in the vicinity

A Palestinian protester kicks a tire during clashes with Israeli troops in the village of Qusra.
A Palestinian protester kicks a tire during clashes with Israeli troops in the village of Qusra, Nov. 30, 2017, after a Palestinian is shot in the area under disputed circumstances.Credit: Majdi Mohammed/AP

Israeli security forces arrested 20 suspects in the northern West Bank village of Qusra early Thursday on suspicion of attacking Israeli hikers near the village on Thursday of last week. Those detained, who include two minors, are also suspect of involvement in recent clashes with Israeli army troops and with extremist right-wing activists.

Suspects were also detained on suspicion of incitement to terrorism, the Israel Defense Forces said.

In an incident last Thursday, Palestinians assaulted a group of teenage hikers, throwing stones at the group, which consisted of twenty 13-year-olds and two adults. One of the adults then shot and killed a Palestinian in the vicinity, Mahmoud Odeh. One of the adults led the children into a nearby cave, where they hid until the army arrived to rescue them. The two adults, parents of the teens, were lightly injured by stones. They were taken to a hospital and released the same day. An Israel Defense Forces statement said personal items belonging to the hikers have been found.

Initially the army said that the adult who shot and killed Odeh had done so in self-defense. The adult, a parent of one of the teens, was interrogated the following day on suspicion of negligent homicide in the case.

The Israeli police in the West Bank are inclined at this point give credence to the claim by the parent that it was an act of self-defense. The shooter is an Israeli army offer of relatively senior rank and is considered an experienced marksman. In the course of the shooting, he emptied his ammunition magazine. The police have been unable to determine how many bullets were in the magazine, but believe that it was more than one.

Sources familiar with the details of the investigation said the evidence supports the shooter's claim that he fired in self-defense or was firing warning shots and did not intend to kill a specific person. Under interrogation, he said that he was trying to protect himself and the 20 children and the other adult who were with him as stones were thrown at the group.

The Palestinians claimed that the stone throwing only began after the shooting, but the army rejects such a claim from the outset and accepts the contention that the shooting was in self-defense. The shooter also claimed that immediately following the incident, he fired into the air and did not notice anyone having been hit. He also said he did not know if Odeh had been one of the assailants.

Although police sources said they are inclined to accept the shooter's version, they pointed out that the investigation is ongoing and all of those involved are expected to be questioned.

Following the incident, Israeli settlers clashed with residents of Qusra at the entrance to the village, which his near Nablus. Villagers allege that the settlers threw stones at them. Six villagers were injured, two moderately and one lightly, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported. An Israeli soldier also suffered light injuries in the clashes when a Palestinian threw a firebomb, the IDF reported.

At the beginning of this week, Palestinians also reported that a Palestinian was seriously injured by gunfire in clashes between Qusra residents and the Israeli army in the eastern part of the village after Israeli right-wing extremists held a protest march in the vicinity. Palestinian demonstrators threw stones at Israeli security forces, rolling rocks at them and burning tires. The IDF and Israeli police removed the marchers from the area, and the army is investigating whether the weapons fire was from a soldier.

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