A Palestinian man was shot and killed Thursday morning by a Jewish settler near the West Bank village of Qusra. Later in the day, settlers reportedly attacked villagers, injuring six of them.
From conversations with three witnesses to the incident and two sources close to the investigation, Haaretz has learned that dozens of Palestinians surrounded a group of Israeli youths hiking in the area and threw rocks at them. One the adults accompanying the youths drew his gun and said he fired in the air.
The Israeli army said the Palestinian man died as a result of this shooting, yet a source in the Israel Police said it is unclear what the army was basing this claim on. He added that the investigation is still in its initial phases, and that the Palestinian's body will be sent to an autopsy.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said the man who was killed, 48-year-old Mahmoud Zael Oudeh, was shot while tending to his land.
Two Israelis in their 40s were lightly wounded in the incident, Magen David Adom emergency responders confirmed. Clashes then erupted between Palestinians and soldiers until the army dispersed the crowd. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded in the fracas.
According to a preliminary Israeli army investigation, some 20 youths were hiking in the Qusra area accompanied by an adult, when they were surrounded by dozens of Palestinians who began to hurl rocks at the group. In response, the army said, one of the Israelis opened fire "out of self-defense" and killed the Palestinian man. Settlers claimed that after the shooting Palestinians grabbed the gun, which is still missing. The army added that after the incident the hikers sought refuge in a nearby cave until soldiers came to assist them.
"We were hiking a trail that had been coordinated with the military," said the settler who fired the shot. "We were attacked in an open area near [the settlement of] Migdalim. We were in mortal danger and had to shoot. We tried to defend ourselves."
One of the youths on the hike said: "We were on a hike to celebrate a bar mitzvah. While on the hike they began to throw stones at us. The guards took us into a cave, at which point the Arabs began closing in and throwing stones at the cave. When they were at the cave they took the gun from the guard. We told them: 'Stop, enough!" They threatened us with the gun, entered the cave and tried to take our bags and telephones from us."
The youth added that the Palestinians beat and cursed them.
"We were in mortal danger," the second accompanying guard said.
The Samaria Regional Council said the incident was an attempted lynching in which some 100 Palestinians took part.
Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian Authority official who deals with the settlements, said that the Palestinian was shot in the chest and later succumbed to his wounds in a Nablus hospital.
Kusai Abed Almanam, a member of the regional council of Qusra, told Haaretz that the Palestinian killed in the altercations with Israeli settlers "is known in the village as a farmer who often tends to his land."
According to Almanam, "Mahmoud Zael Oudeh left [to go to his] plot of land, which is located several kilometers away from Esh Kodesh. He was with his wife so the whole version claiming they attacked the settlers is a lie. Such a man and his wife could not attack a group of fifteen settlers."
Almanam added that "one of the settlers shot him and he was gravely injured and died at a local clinic."
Later on Thursday, Israeli settlers clashed with Qusra residents, who said the settlers threw stones at them.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that six Palestinians were wounded in the incident on Thursday evening, three of them moderately. A soldier suffered minor injuries in the clashes, according to the Israeli army, from a Molotov cocktail thrown by a Palestinian. Army troops and the police used crowd-control devices against the Palestinians.
Abed Alazim Wadi, the head of the Qusra local council, told Haaretz, "Settlers damaged property and homes under cover of army forces in the area." He added, "Some of the homes are at a distance from the village, and damage was caused to a number of homes and cars as a result of settler aggression."
This is not the first clash between settlers and Palestinians in the area. In January 2014 ten masked settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost entered the village of Qusra. They were surrounded and beaten by dozens of Palestinians. Qusra residents who tried to defend the settlers contacted the Israeli army, and soldiers arrived on the scene to evacuate them.