Two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a restaurant and gas station near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank on Tuesday, killing four Israelis and wounding several other people before they were shot dead, authorities said, as violence roiled the occupied territory the day after a deadly Israeli military raid.
Israeli settlers attempted to carry out revenge attacks across the northern West Bank, raising fears of a repeat of a rampage last February that resulted in damage to dozens of Palestinian homes and vehicles and the killing of a Palestinian man.
Carloads of Israeli settlers drove to the northern Palestinian towns of Hawara, Beit Furik, Burin and surrounding villages, setting dozens of cars on fire, hurling stones and trying to set homes ablaze, said Nablus official Ghassan Daghlas. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Tuesday’s violence underscored the fragility of the situation in the West Bank, where on Monday an Israeli military raid into the northern Jenin refugee camp ignited some of the fiercest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years, killing six Palestinians and wounding scores more. Palestinian militants targeted Israeli military vehicles with powerful roadside bombs and Israeli forces deployed helicopter gunships to evacuate stranded troops.
In the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus late Tuesday, two Palestinian teenagers were killed when homemade explosives they were handling went off accidentally, the local Islamic Jihad branch said in a statement of condolences. The militant group named the two Palestinians killed as 17-year-old Mohammed Hashah and 18-year-old Alaa Hafnawi. Palestinian media reported that a third was wounded by the blast.
A surge in violence in recent months has killed at least 130 Palestinians and 24 people on the Israeli side so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press, prompting many on either side of the conflict to fear a possible greater conflagration.
The Israeli military said it was sending reinforcements to the West Bank and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “settle the score with the murderers.”
“I want to tell all those who seek to harm us — all options are open,” he said in a video statement. “We will continue to fight terror with all our might.”
The Israeli military said all of the victims were Israeli citizens, and local media described three of the victims as residents of West Bank settlements while the fourth came from central Israel. They reportedly ranged in age from 17 to 60.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the two Palestinian gunmen, both affiliated with the Hamas militant group, drove to the shooting scene from the Palestinian village of Urif in the northern West Bank. The men went on a rampage at a gas station next to the Israeli settlement of Eli, the Israeli military said, north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. They first burst into a hummus restaurant, shooting and killing three people, the army said, before heading out to the gas station and killing another person who was pumping gas into his car.
A civilian bystander shot one of the assailants repeatedly, killing him. Hamas identified him as 26-year-old Mohannad Faleh. The second assailant fled the gas station in a stolen Toyota.
After an hourslong manhunt, Israeli security forces caught him in the West Bank town of Tubas, shooting and killing him when he tried to run out of his car. Palestinian health officials identified the man as 24-year-old Khaled Sabah.
The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack as a response to Monday’s deadly military raid.
“Revolutionaries in the West Bank are striking everywhere, and specifically where (Israel) does not expect it,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, describing the shooting as a “reaction to the crimes of the occupation in the Jenin camp.”
Hours after the attack, Israeli settlers streamed through Palestinian towns, trying to torch property and smashing cars with stones. A few settlers opened fire at Palestinians who had ventured out of their homes to confront them, said Daghlas. Dozens of Palestinians were attacked and wounded by rocks throughout the Nablus governorate, he said, including a Palestinian journalist struck in the face. Videos shared online showed giant fires tearing through the countryside.
Although the scale of damage remained unclear, photos circulated overnight showing charred cars and smashed windshields across the Nablus governorate. In the northern village of Luban e-Sharkiyaa, footage showed a partly scorched gas station and trashed convenience store.
The northern town of Hawara was the scene of a deadly rampage earlier this year in which Israeli settlers set dozens of homes and cars on fire and left one Palestinian dead after a Palestinian militant attack killed two Israeli brothers.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was convening with the country’s army chief and other top security officials to discuss a response to the shooting. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners have ramped up pressure on the government to crack down harshly on the wave of Palestinian violence.
“Now is the time for a military operation in Judea and Samaria,” said Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, using the biblical term for the West Bank. From the scene of the attack, he demanded that the government launch “targeted assassinations from the air,” “take down buildings,” deport Palestinian assailants and impose the death penalty on terrorists.
The head of the Yesha Council, the Israeli settlers’ umbrella organization, echoed calls for a “broad (military) operation.”
“We cannot continue to absorb these blows and hope the wave of terrorism will just pass,” said Shlomo Ne’eman.
The Israeli rescue service said that one person remained in serious condition, two people in moderate condition and another in light condition. Medics reported that they found seven people suffering from gunshot wounds in the hummus restaurant and the outside gas station.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides strongly condemned “the senseless murder of four innocent Israelis” and said he was “deeply concerned about the civilian deaths” of the past two days.
Tuesday’s shooting followed fighting in the northern Jenin refugee camp that killed six Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, and wounded over 90 others. On Tuesday, the death toll from the raid rose to six when 48-year-old Amjad Abu Jaas succumbed to wounds sustained in the gunbattle, Palestinian health officials said. A dozen Palestinians remain in critical condition. Eight Israeli soldiers were also wounded.
After the deadly raid, Palestinians rushed to checkpoints to throw stones at Israeli military vehicles in protest. In the Palestinian town of Husan, west of Bethlehem, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man who they alleged threw a firebomb at troops along a West Bank highway late Monday. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man killed as 21-year-old Zakaria al-Zaoul.
Israel and the Palestinian territories have been gripped by months of violence, fueled by several factors. Rising militancy among a new generation of Palestinians, the new far-right government’s hard-line stance against the Palestinians and an escalating Israeli military crackdown on the West Bank have all worked to fuel violence and undermine efforts to calm tensions.
Israel has been staging near-nightly raids in the West Bank in response to a spasm of Palestinian violence early last year. Israel says most of the 128 Palestinian dead this year were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.