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5 Palestinians Arrested in West Bank Shooting of Israeli

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Five Palestinian men, including at least three members of the military wing of the Fatah faction, were arrested on Wednesday, accused of planning and executing a particularly audacious shooting last month, the Israeli military and police said.

The shooting, which killed one Israeli man and wounded another, came amid a wave of attacks targeting Israeli civilians and military forces in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. But the June attack was chilling in its execution: A Palestinian man flagged down a car carrying the two Israelis, both hikers, to ask them about a nearby spring, one of many small oases in the West Bank where Palestinians and Israelis seek relief from the summer heat, the Israeli military has said. The man then pulled a gun out of a plastic bag and shot the two Israelis.

And while other attacks involving stabbings and shootings have been widely considered to be the work of lone assailants without any planning or assistance from militant groups, the attack on June 19 was planned by a cell of five men, the military and the police said. They identified the gunman as Muhammad Abu Shaheen, about 20, who was among those arrested.

The police and military accounts differed as to the suspects’ affiliation with Fatah. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said all of the men were members of the military wing of Fatah, which is led by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, while an Israeli military statement said just three belonged to Fatah. It could not be determined if any of the men were members; Fatah did not immediately comment on the arrests.

Mr. Rosenfeld said that the arrests were carried out over a series of weeks, and that the men were responsible for other shootings this year. “They worked specifically together and carried out other shootings,” he said.

He said the suspects lived in the Kalandia refugee camp, a gritty, impoverished cinder-block ghetto near a major Israeli-controlled crossing into Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called on Mr. Abbas’s government to condemn the killing, saying the gunman worked for the Palestinian Authority. “Those who do not attack terrorism will, in the end, be attacked by it,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement. It was not clear if Mr. Abu Shaheen did in fact work for the government. Israeli security forces said he was a member of a militant group affiliated with Fatah.

The springs in the West Bank are a source of contention between Palestinians and Jewish settlers. Visits by Israelis to some springs must be coordinated with the Israeli Army, which provides security if the visit is approved. An Israeli military officer has said the two men shot on June 19 had not coordinated their visit. Jewish settlers, sometimes backed by military forces, do not allow Palestinians to enter some springs — a particularly grating move, because Palestinians are not able to move freely through Israeli-controlled areas to access other natural spots.

The shooting occurred near a spring close to the settlement of Dolev, which was built between two Palestinian communities. The Israeli men had visited the spring but decided to leave the area after seeing Palestinians sitting there, Israeli news media reported at the time. The slain man was identified as Danny Gonen, 25, from the central Israeli town of Lod.

The timing of the shooting was a grim reminder of the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers last year in the West Bank, which unleashed tensions that culminated in a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group, in the Gaza Strip. Hamas initially praised the shooting of the two Israelis, Israeli news media reported at the time, but did not claim responsibility for it.

Also Wednesday, the Israeli military said a Palestinian stabbed a soldier near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, causing light to moderate wounds. Israeli news media said the attacker, a woman, was detained.

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(via NY Times)