HAWARA, West Bank (Reuters): Suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli-American motorist in the occupied West Bank on Monday after Jewish settlers rampaged through a Palestinian village in a burst of violence that defied US efforts to prod the sides to cooperate on security.
Israeli officials said in the latest incident Palestinians carried out several drive-by shootings on a highway near Jericho, killing an Israeli in his car before fleeing. The US State Department said the person killed was also a US citizen.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any Palestinian groups. The State Department did not identify the person killed.
Israel reinforced its West Bank garrisons after two brothers from a Jewish settlement were shot dead on Sunday, triggering the rampage by settlers in which a Palestinian was killed, scores were hurt and dozens of cars and homes were torched.
With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Jewish Passover festival weeks away, foreign mediators have sought to tamp down tensions that surged after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regained power at the head of a hard-right coalition.
The events cast doubt on Netanyahu’s ability to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Washington — pushing for a lasting compromise — and his own cabinet that includes hard-line settlers demanding tough action against Palestinian attacks.
At a regular briefing for reporters, State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned attacks by both sides and welcomed statements by Netanyahu calling for a cessation to what Price described as “vigilante violence” by settlers.
“We expect the Israeli government to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these attacks, in addition to compensation for the lost homes and property,” Price said.
On Sunday, Jordan, with US envoys, hosted a rare meeting where Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged a slowdown in Jewish settlement announcements by the Netanyahu government and reaffirmed past peace accords.
Diplomacy stalled in 2014. Israel now rules out West Bank handovers to the Palestinians, who are themselves divided between the internationally-backed administration of President Mahmoud Abbas and Islamists opposed to peacemaking.
The Islamist militant Hamas said through its spokesman, Abdel-Latif Al-Qanoua, that Monday’s attack was a natural response to Israeli attacks.
“The crimes conducted by the occupation and the herds of settlers will not be met but with stabbing, shooting and car ramming,” Qanoua said in a statement.
“We expect difficult days ahead of us,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters as he toured the largely empty streets of the village of Hawara, site of Sunday’s violence, under a heavy security detail.
Abbas blamed the Israeli government for the Hawara rampage.
Lamar Abusarees, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl, said her house was among those set alight by settlers: “My mother moved us to a corner because there was no safe place, they broke all the windows while we were inside.”
Israeli police said they had arrested two people for the rampage. In parliament, Netanyahu said security forces were closing in on the gunman who had killed the Israeli brothers.
Four extra army battalions and two border police companies were posted to the West Bank since Sunday as reinforcements, the Israeli military said.
“I call on everyone to restore calm,” Gallant said. “We cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their hands.”
Sixty-three Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed by Israeli forces in 2023, Palestinian officials say. Palestinian attacks have killed 13 Israelis, one of them a policeman, and a Ukrainian tourist, Israel says.