Israeli Soldier Seriously Wounded in West Bank as Manhunt for Shooters Continues

Israeli army says soldier was wounded after Palestinian approached outpost and attacked him with a rock ■ 37 alleged Hamas activists arrested in Thursday overnight crackdown of West Bank

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, December 2018
Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, December 2018Credit: Israeli army Spokesperson's Unit
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

An Israeli soldier sustained serious wounds during a confrontation with a Palestinian on Friday in a military outpost near the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

According to the Israeli army, a struggle ensued between the soldier and the Palestinian after the latter crossed the West Bank barrier, reached the outpost and attacked the soldier with a rock and a knife.

After stabbing the soldier and hitting him with a rock, the Palestinian fled the scene and the soldier was evacuated to a hospital for medical care. He is currently sedated and intubated. Israeli security forces are canvassing the area for the assailant, who is also believed to have been wounded in the exchange.

>> West Bank spirals into violence as Hamas ups efforts to orchestrate attacks | Analysis ■ Netanyahu's two greatest fears have suddenly materialized | Analysis

Also Friday, the Israeli army said it operated in Ramallah on Thursday night as the manhunt continues for the shooters responsible for a deadly drive-by attack in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and another two were wounded, and in which the perpetrator stole a soldiers' weapon before fleeing.

The man, who suffered severe head trauma and went through complex surgery, is still in intensive care and in life-threatening condition. The woman, Shira Sabag, is improving and expected to move to a regular ward later on Friday.

Forty suspects were arrested Thursday overnight, according to the Israeli army, with 37 said to be Hamas activists. In a joint operation with the Border Police, Shin Bet and Israel Police, the suspects were detained for suspected involvement in terrorist activity and rioting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas on Thursday that Israel won't have a Gaza cease-fire if terrorism in the West Bank continues, a senior official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli soldiers, December 11, 2018.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The military has sealed off Ramallah and set up roadblocks throughout the area. Most of the activity was centered around Ayoush Square, near the entrance to Ramallah.

Israeli defense officials increasingly believe that the Hamas cell responsible for last week's attack near the West Bank settlement of Ofra is also behind today's attack.

Netanyahu also said he would legalize thousands of Jewish homes in the West Bank, hours after two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in a shooting attack.

The Prime Minister's Office said it would promote the construction of 82 new housing units in the settlement of Ofra, as well as two new industrial zones near the settlements of Avnei Hefetz and Betar Ilit.

Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, ordered the military to expedite the demolition of terrorists' homes to within 48 hours after an attack.

Yossi Cohen and Yovel Mor Yosef, who were killed in the shooting attack at Givat Assaf in the West Bank on December 13, 2018.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

"Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life," Netanyahu said. "Our enemies know this and we will find them," he said, adding that "we will settle accounts with whoever did this."

Netanyahu also ordered an increased presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank, the detention of Hamas operatives in the area, the placement of roadblocks and the denial of permits for terrorists’ families to stay in Israel.

Netanyahu did not specify which buildings the order applies to; that is, whether they are built on state land. Nor did he discuss how he intends to legalize them. The Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are looking into ways to legalize outposts and existing structures in settlements.

Strengthening the settlements

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to discuss a bill to legalize a series of outposts and settlements. The proposal seeks to supply settlements whose status has yet to be confirmed with services that would prevent their demolition until they receive official status. The committee, headed by a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements, Pinchas Wallerstein, was set up last year but has yet to meet.

The bill, proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), would let government ministries examine budgets and infrastructure needs such as water and electricity. The bill would also permit the construction of schools and other public buildings in unrecognized outposts in settlements that are already recognized. The bill refers to settlements that have been established over the past 20 years.

"Our response to murderous terrorism must be sharp and clear," said Yariv Levin, acting head of the ministerial committee and tourism minister. "We will work to continue construction throughout Israel and to strengthen settlements and new settlements."

Levin added: "The residents of the settlements are entitled to all municipal services just as any other citizen in Israel, including water and electricity infrastructure, budgets and everything necessary to maintain a normal life."

It is not clear what the full implications of the bill would be. Most established outposts are already connected to water and electricity, largely via nearby settlements. The authorities refer to such outposts as recognized localities; budgets from both ministries and West Bank regional councils are transferred to them on an ongoing basis.

Amid the recent string of terror attacks, the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party wants the committee to approve a bill that would allow the expulsion of members of terrorists' families within the West Bank. The party's chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, said the debate on the bill, which was originally due to take place weeks ago, was postponed at the request of Netanyahu, who promised to take steps to deter terrorism.

Bennett, however, intends to move the legislation forward. "Legalization paralyzes the defense establishment," he said, adding that he would push the bill "despite the opposition by lawmakers close to Netanyahu."

The committee is also scheduled to discuss a bill to imprison for one year anyone who flies the flag of the Palestinian Authority at a demonstration. According to the proposal by MK Anat Berko (Likud) “at least three people who publicly rally and raise the flag of an enemy state, entity or body that’s unfriendly to Israel or doesn’t let the Israeli flag be raised in their territory can be imprisoned for up to one year.”

The bill defines such a perpetrator as someone who does not recognize Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."

Berko added: "Israel, as a democratic state, allows its citizens to protest issues in which they disagree with the authorities' decisions, but the bill draws a line between a legitimate protest and a protest in which there are flags of someone who doesn't recognize Israel, or who doesn't allow Israel to raise its own flag in its territory." The punishment of such acts would be the prohibition of protests.

Manhunt zeroes in on Ramallah

The Israel Defense Forces is focusing largely on Ramallah in its search for Thursday's assailants, who fled the scene. An abandoned vehicle has been located and the military is inspecting whether it was used by the shooters.

Also, the Shin Bet security service is using its field agents and technology to find the gunmen. Defense officials had no intelligence pointing to a planned attack – the latest shooting attack that the security forces failed to prevent.

"There was massive fire, bullet after bullet, but not in bursts," said one witness, adding that the shooting lasted several seconds.

The deaths extend a violent week that began with a shooting outside a West Bank settlement on Sunday, resulting in the death of a baby who was delivered prematurely after the attack. The violence continued with the killing of two Palestinians wanted in that and another attack on Israelis in the West Bank.

The IDF's West Bank Division is currently better staffed than usual, with 14 battalions in the West Bank alongside special units such as the Duvdevan unit, the Border Police's Arab-speaking undercover counterterror unit. Also deployed is the police's special anti-terror unit.

The IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said a man left a vehicle on Route 60, opened fire and fled.

Manelis said soldiers were checking the area in search of several assailants, and were setting up checkpoints. Also, the army has sealed off roads leading Ramallah.

One of the Israelis killed was 20-year-old Staff Sgt.Yovel Mor Yosef. He served in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in the Kfir Brigade and is survived by his parents and three sisters.

The two wounded, a male soldier and a woman, were treated by emergency services and taken to hospitals in Jerusalem. The man suffered a gunshot wound to the head and is in severe condition, a hospital said. The woman's condition remains serious but has stabilized, doctors said, adding that her life was no longer in danger.

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