One Israeli killed, 8 injured after gunmen open fire in West Bank amid boiling tensions

Israel, West Bank, shooting
Image Source : AP Israeli forces examine the site of the shooting in the West Bank.

Jerusalem: Three gunmen opened fire on Thursday morning on a road near a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank region, killing one Israeli national and injuring at least eight others, according to police. This comes at a time when violence is high in the territory amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, where Israeli operations have killed thousands of Palestinians.

Two of the three attackers were killed on the spot, while a third was apprehended later and detained. Police said the attackers took advantage of the slow morning traffic around 7:30 am Thursday on the main highway east of Jerusalem and opened fire with automatic weapons at cars waiting near a checkpoint.

Recently, Western countries backing Israel in the war against Hamas have imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank. The US and UK governments have highly condemned “unprecedented levels” of violence by settlers in the West Bank over the past year, including those who aggressively harassed or intimidated Palestinians to pressure them to leave their land.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the earlier US measures, saying that “the vast majority of settlers are law-abiding citizens.” He said his country “takes action against lawbreakers in every place, and therefore there is no place for exceptional steps on this measure.”

Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, said on Wednesday that new attempts are underway to reach a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that could pause the war in Gaza. However, he reiterated his warning that unless Hamas agrees to release the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, he said, Israel will launch a ground offensive into the crowded southern city of Rafah during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Initial signs indicate a possibility of moving forward,” said Benny Gantz, a former military chief and defence minister. It’s the first Israeli indication of renewed cease-fire talks since negotiations stalled a week ago. Israeli strikes across Gaza killed at least 67 Palestinians overnight and into Wednesday, including in areas where civilians have been told to seek refuge.

Israel’s war in Gaza has driven some 80 per cent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. Most heeded Israeli orders to flee south and around 1.5 million are packed into Rafah near the border with Egypt. More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed so far – most of them women and children.

Israel is seeking the release of the more than 100 hostages that Hamas is still holding in Gaza. Hamas wants an end to the war, the withdrawal of all Israeli troops and the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Weeks of efforts by the US, Egypt and Qatar have so far not yielded a deal. 

Israel has identified Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border where over half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge, as its next target. It says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold after nearly five months of fighting. Gantz said Israel would evacuate the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Rafah before striking, but repeated his pledge that the offensive would take place during Ramadan if hostages were not released.

Israeli lawmakers oppose recognition of Palestinian state

Meanwhile, Israel’s parliament has given overwhelming approval to a declaration expressing opposition to international efforts to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. The vote took place on Wednesday and was approved by 99 of 120 lawmakers, is not binding but reflects the widespread sentiment in Israel as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza for a fifth month. Only nine lawmakers voted against the measure.

“Israel outright rejects international edicts regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. The settlement, to the extent that it is reached, will be solely through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions,” it says. Netanyahu’s Cabinet adopted the declaration earlier in the week.

Netanyahu went on the offensive after media reports arose last week of a possible roadmap toward establishing a Palestinian state from the US administration and Arab countries. The US has also said Palestinian statehood is a key element in a broader vision for the normalization of relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

The international community overwhelmingly supports an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. Netanyahu’s government is filled with hard-liners who oppose Palestinian independence. 

(with inputs from agencies)

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