JERUSALEM — The Israeli authorities announced Monday night that they had apprehended a group of Palestinian militants affiliated with Hamas who admitted responsibility for the fatal shooting last week of an Israeli couple in front of their four children in the occupied West Bank.
“We will act with a very harsh hand against terror and also against incitement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a nationally televised statement praising the security forces for capturing five members of the Hamas cell. “The police is entering deep into the Arab neighborhoods in a way that has never been done before,” he added. “We will not give any rioter or any inciter immunity in any place, and so there are no limitations of the actions of the defense forces.”
The arrests of members of the Hamas cell came on a day of continued violence across the West Bank, with Israeli forces killing two Palestinian youths — one just 13 — during clashes earlier in the day.
The Palestinian Red Crescent society reported that more than 500 Palestinians had been injured over the last few days as four additional battalions of Israeli soldiers swarmed the West Bank and thousands of police officers patrolled East Jerusalem. New roadblocks slowed traffic — as did burning tires hurled by angry Palestinians in what people on both sides have called a third intifada.
“Israel wants to drag us into violence to portray us as a terrorist people so Netanyahu can say he is fighting terrorism,” Ahmad Majdalani, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, told Voice of Palestine radio. “Israel is continuing with its escalation based on the rule saying what cannot be taken by force will be achieved with more force.”
“I’m not sure if we are talking about an Intifada like the two previous ones,” Mr. Majdalani added. “Each stage has its own conditions, so this might be a different kind of Intifada.”
Israel’s Government Press Office said the authorities had detained five people affiliated with the militant Islamist group Hamas who the government says are responsible for killing Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife, Naama, as they drove between West Bank settlements Thursday night.
A statement from the press office identified the gunman as Yehye Muhammad Naif Abdallah Haj Hamed, who was born in 1991 and who the government says participated in other attacks against Israelis. He was accompanied by Kerem Lutfy Fathi, born in 1982, who was armed with a pistol that he dropped when he was accidentally wounded during the attack. The recovered pistol helped lead the authorities to the suspects, the statement said.
The government statement also said the authorities had captured Raeb Ahmed Muhammad Alivi, the commander who “recruited the members of the cell, instructed them and provided them with weapons,” even though he was not in the car with the alleged gunmen at the time of the attack.
“Cell members said that on the evening of the attack, two of them traveled on the route and selected the point from which they would open fire,” the statement said. “Afterwards they collected the other members, one of which checked the route. Upon hearing that the route was clear, the cell set out, identified the Henkins’ vehicle and opened fire. After the Henkins’ vehicle stopped, two cell members left their vehicle and fired again from very close range.”
The two Palestinian teenagers who were killed on Monday died as Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians near checkpoints and military watchtowers in the West Bank.
It was not immediately clear whether one of the teenagers, identified by a medic as Abdul-Rahman Obeidallah, 13, had been involved in fighting in Bethlehem, where the military reported that a riot broke out when Palestinian youths threw rocks at members of the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Patrol force. According to Army Radio, the military was investigating the fatality.
Those clashes on Monday came after Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager, identified as Huthayfa Soliman, 18, as he and others threw firebombs, firecrackers and rocks during clashes at a checkpoint near Tulkarm, in the northern West Bank, according to the Israeli military.
Faisal Salameh, a Palestinian medic, said Mr. Soliman was shot in the stomach and died in a hospital, and that the Palestine Red Crescent Society, fearing more violence in the days to come, had raised its emergency-status level.
The largest demonstration on Monday occurred close to an Israeli checkpoint that is near a Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Ramallah.
The Palestinian police did not allow the protesters, mostly teenagers, to reach the Israeli checkpoint, and they responded by walking up a nearby hill to throw rocks and firebombs at the soldiers, running to a nearby gas station to keep filling their bottles.
They also set fire to tires, blocking roads for Palestinian traffic. Heavy plumes of black smoke were seen on a nearby road, where it appeared that protesters were also burning tires.
There were also escalating tensions and confrontations around the contested Old City compound that houses Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Palestinians widely fear that Israeli leaders plan to divide the site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
Palestinian leaders, including the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, have openly accused Israeli leaders of planning to do just that; Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the allegations and accused Palestinian leaders of seeking to incite violence.
Also on Monday, the Israeli authorities continued the unusual measure of barring most of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents from entering the Old City.
Only Israeli citizens, tourists and Palestinians who live, work or study in the Old City were granted access, along with some Palestinians who were headed to Al Aqsa Mosque for worship, but men under 50 were temporarily barred from praying there.
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(via NY Times)