An Israeli soldier, aged 19, was killed and another Israeli man was seriously wounded on Sunday in a shooting attack in the West Bank. Emergency services said that a third man was also seriously wounded in a nearby attack.
The soldier who was killed is Staff Sgt. Gal Keidan from Be'er Sheva serving in an artillery battalion. Keidan, whose parents came to Israel from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, was a gifted student and musician. He left behind parents and two brothers.
One of the critically wounded is a resident of the Eli settlement in the West Bank, Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, 47, father to 12 children.
Those wounded were taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. One of them is said to suffer an head injury and the other a stomach injury.
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Security forces are in pursuit of the assailant, who reportedly fled the scene and is still at large.
The Israeli army also set up roadblocks in the area and blocked entrances to neighboring Palestinian towns and villages.
Authorities have ordered Israeli settlements in the area to close off their entrances until the perpetrator is apprehended.
According to the Israel Defense Forces' Spokesperson's Unit, the Palestinian assailant approached the Ariel commercial center at around 10:00 A.M., stabbed an Israeli man at the scene and grabbed a weapon the victim had.
The attacker used this weapon to fire toward vehicles that were in the area. He then entered a car whose driver escaped in fear, and used the car to drive to the nearby Gitai Junction, where he opened fire on a bus stop. He later fled in the direction of Burqin.
A Magen David Adom medic who was at the scene said: "When I passed the Ariel Junction, I noticed the commotion. I saw soldiers running and heard gunfire. I understood something was happening and I called on many MDA forces to come to the scene."
"When the shooting stopped I got out of the car and saw a young man laying unconscious on the ground with gunshot injuries to his upper body," the medic said. "We carried out medical examinations and determined that he was in critical condition."
Ministers point to Arab politicians, High Court for blame
Speaking out after the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is "certain Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet and security agencies chasing the terrorists will capture them. We will bring them to justice, just as we did it all recent cases."
President Reuven Rivlin extend his condolences to the families of those affected, "who are handling with the harsh news of this horrible attack," and security forces searching for the attacker. "The State of Israel will reach all those raising a hand against our citizens."
With Israel's April 9 election approaching, Culture Minister Miri Regev said the attack "is the result of incitement," which she blamed on Israeli Arab politician Ahmad Tibi, "who encourage shahids and wouldn't condemn the murder of innocent people."
According to Regev, Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz "wants to sit with that person" in government. "Gantz and [Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair] Lapid want to form a bloc with that person ... This is the sort of left that will lead us to these kinds of attacks."
Kahol Lavan slammed Regev for her comments, saying in a statement "Never in the history of this country has an Israeli minister used terror attack deaths for political propaganda, even before those killed are laid to rest."
Former military chief and Kahol Lavan candidate Gabi Ashkenazi called her comments "a disgrace." He said Regev "is dealing with cheap politics ... We've had enough." Several other Kahol Lavan candidates took to Twitter to blast Regev's words.
Hayamin Hehadash co-leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked argued that the Israeli justice system "is making it difficult for IDF soldiers to defeat terrorism."
"Legal limitations on the IDF prevent effective deterrence," Shaked said. "Once again we hear slogans on bringing terrorists to justice, but once again, nearly nothing will happen to them ... The terrorists are not afraid."
Bennett said "IDF soldiers think five times before opening fire at a terrorist, because they fear prosecution ... To beat Hamas, we must liberate the IDF from the High Court of Justice."
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg slammed Bennett and Shaked for "comparing the High Court and Hamas," arguing "this couple is flat out attacking democracy ... This is a clear, immediate danger."
'Natural reaction to the occupation'
Hamas praised the attack, calling it "a natural reaction to the crimes of the occupation against Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and Palestinian prisoners" held by Israel. Islamic Jihad spokesman said the organization "congratulates those who comitted it."
In early March, two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded when a car rammed into them in the village of N'ima in the northern West Bank. Two of the suspects in that attack were shot and killed by Israeli forces and a third was lighly wounded, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
No other attacks against Israelis in the West Bank were reported since early February. However, in late February senior officials in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas said a violent escalation was possible if Israel did not ease its increasing pressure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The governor of the Nablus district, Akram Rajoub, told Haaretz that Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax funds or any funds that belonged to the PA, alongside aggression by settlers or the army, were only making matters worse and that no one could predict the reaction on the street.
Jack Khoury, Noa Landau, Chaim Levinson and Josh Breiner contributed to this report.