Israeli forces have arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank as the army intensified a crackdown in response to a pair of deadly shootings believed to have been carried out by Hamas terrorists, officials said.
Some 70 Hamas members, including legislators, were arrested this week, including about 40 overnight, said a Hamas official in the West Bank. The Israeli military confirmed the overnight arrests.
The arrests came as Israel’s military accelerated its search for the Palestinian gunman who opened fire the day before on a West Bank bus stop, killing two soldiers.
The shooting occurred a short distance from the scene of another drive-by shooting earlier this week that wounded seven Israelis and caused the premature delivery of a baby boy who later died.
As Israel prepared to bury the two soldiers killed in Thursday’s shooting, another soldier was severely wounded near a West Bank settlement after a Palestinian struck him on the head with a rock, knocking him unconscious, the military said.
The army said it appeared the soldier was also stabbed. It said Israeli forces were searching for the suspect.
Thursday’s shooting came amid a deadly week that claimed seven lives, including the Israeli baby, a 60-year-old Palestinian businessman and three Palestinian assailants, two of them members of the terrorist group Hamas .
The latest shootings prompted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to beef up troop levels in the West Bank, order detentions of Hamas activists and call for the demolition of the homes of assailants within 48 hours.
Amid the tense manhunt, Israeli forces encircled Ramallah, the Palestinians’ typically quiet centre of government and commerce. To prevent what it called “copycat attacks”, the army set up checkpoints, searched cars and blocked roads in an unusual show of force that reflected the severity with which Israel views the shootings.
“Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life,” Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of creating a “climate” of violence by conducting frequent military raids in Palestinian cities. He also accused Israel of incitement against him.
Israeli officials accuse Hamas of being behind the recent attacks. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, praised Thursday’s shooting and confirmed that two people killed by Israel this week were members of its military wing, but it has stopped short of claiming responsibility for their attacks.
The latest West Bank violence comes amid years-long diplomatic paralysis, diminishing hopes for peace and escalating Palestinian frustration with the policies of President Donald Trump, who Palestinians accuse of unfair bias towards Israel.
Peace talks have stalled throughout Mr Netanyahu’s decade-long tenure, while Israeli settlements in the West Bank have expanded, incensing Palestinians.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for an independent state.