A Palestinian gunman got out of a car and opened fire at a bus stop outside a West Bank settlement on Thursday, killing two Israeli soldiers before speeding away, the Israeli military said.
The military said the assailant also wounded two other people, including another soldier who was critically wounded. It said troops were searching the area for the attacker and that it was sending reinforcements.
The deaths extended a violent week that began with a shooting outside a West Bank settlement on Sunday, resulting in the death of a baby who was delivered prematurely following the weekend attack, and continued with the killing of two Palestinians wanted in a pair of attacks on Israelis in the West Bank.
While the West Bank experiences occasional deadly violence, often between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters, most of the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed in recent months has been concentrated in the Gaza Strip, where some 175 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in border protests.
Thursday’s shooting occurred at a location about a 10-minute drive south from the place of Sunday’s attack.
“In recent days, we definitely feel like the situation (in the West Bank) is getting worse,” said Shalom Galil, a paramedic who assisted at the scene of the shooting, told Israeli Army Radio.
Following the attack, Israel set up checkpoints at the entrances to the West Bank city of Ramallah, searching cars entering the city and checking drivers’ IDs. Some Israeli-controlled roads were completely blocked to Palestinian traffic.
The clampdown on the city, the Palestinians’ economic and administrative center, was an unusual step that signaled the severity with which Israel viewed the violent flare-up.
Walid Whadan, spokesman of the Palestinian civil affairs ministry, said Israel had not taken such measures in Ramallah since the second Palestinian uprising that ended more than a decade ago.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the gunman fled toward Ramallah and that the measures were also meant to prevent additional attacks. “We know that when there is one attack there may be others,” he told reporters.
He said the army was bolstering its forces in the West Bank with a focus on securing roads and launching a “massive manhunt” for the Palestinian gunman.
Conricus declined to comment on whether there was a connection between Thursday’s shooting and the attack earlier this week, but he said the army was “investigating such theories,” and responding to the current “environment of incitement” in the West Bank.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the latest round of violence, criticizing both militant attacks and the tough Israeli response.
In a statement, Abbas’ office accused Israel of creating a “climate” conducive to violence through its frequent military operations in Palestinian cities. He also accused Israel of incitement against him.
“This atmosphere created by the frequent Israeli raids of the cities, and the incitement against the president and the absence of the peace hopes, lead to this series of violence that both people are paying the price for,” the statement said.
Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim the territories for their hoped-for state.
Thursday’s shooting came hours after Israeli security forces tracked down and killed a Palestinian accused of killing two Israelis.
Israeli police said Ashraf Naalweh was found armed near the West Bank city of Nablus and was killed during an arrest raid.
Israel accuses Naalweh of shooting to death two Israelis and wounding another at an attack in a West Bank industrial zone in October. He fled the scene and Israeli forces have been searching for him since.
“Israel’s long arm will reach anyone who harms Israeli citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Police said they had made a number of arrests in their attempt to hunt down Naalweh and suspected he was planning on carrying out another attack.
In a separate incident late Wednesday, Israeli forces killed Salah Barghouti, a Palestinian suspect wanted in the drive-by shooting earlier this week at a West Bank bus stop.
In Sunday night’s attack, assailants in a Palestinian vehicle opened fire at a bus stop outside a West Bank settlement, wounding seven people, including a 21-year-old pregnant woman, before speeding away.
The militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip said that both Barghouti and Naalweh were members, but it stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attacks the two carried out.
“The flame of resistance in the (West) Bank will remain alive until the occupation is defeated on all our land,” Hamas said.
Also Thursday, police said an assailant stabbed two officers in Jerusalem’s Old City, wounding them lightly. The officers opened fire on the attacker and he was killed, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Police identified the man as a 26-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank. It released security camera footage that shows the man lunging toward the officers and appearing to stab them.