Israel deploys hundreds of troops after two settlers shot dead

Drive-by killing of Israeli couple in West Bank comes amid mounting tension

An Israeli border policeman uses pepper spray on a Palestinian man during clashes in Arab East Jerusalem on Friday. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters.

An Israeli border policeman uses pepper spray on a Palestinian man during clashes in Arab East Jerusalem on Friday. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters.

 

Israel has launched a huge manhunt in the West Bank for the suspected Palestinian gunmen who killed a pair of Israeli settlers in front of their children.

Eitam and Naama Henkin, both in their 30s, were driving with four of their children between the settlements of Itamar and Elon More, in the north of the occupied Palestinian territory, when they were killed in an apparent drive-by attack on Thursday night.

Their four children, aged between four months and nine years, were found unharmed in the back of the car. The attack took place shortly before 9pm.

First responder Boaz Malka said: “We saw a vehicle in the middle of the road, and a man in his 30s lying next to it with wounds in his upper torso.

“Inside the car sat a woman in her 30s, also with severe wounds to her upper torso. They were without any signs of life, and unfortunately we were forced to pronounce them dead at the scene.”

According to police, Naama Henkin was killed instantly while the severely wounded Eitam managed to leave the vehicle and open a door, telling his children to escape, before he died.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers ringed several Palestinian villages in their search for the killers. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, echoing remarks he made in a speech to the UN general assembly, blamed “Palestinian incitement” for the murders. Last month, an elderly Israeli man also died after crashing his car amid a stone-throwing incident in east Jerusalem.

The latest killings come at a time of mounting recent tension between Israelis and Palestinians amid a moribund peace process and growing friction once again over the flashpoint religious site in Jerusalem known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews.

Apprehensive of rising tensions, the Israeli army said it would be deploying “four battalions in order to prevent an escalation of violence in the area adjacent to the location of the attack”.

The killing of the Henkins, residents of the settlement of Neria, follow shooting incidents in June, when two Israeli men, Danny Gonen and Malachi Rosenfeld, were killed within a 10-day period.

The Henkins murders were condemned by both the UN and the US. “The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack that took place late Thursday evening in the West Bank,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

“We urge all sides to maintain calm, avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this tragedy, and work together to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

On the Palestinian side, anger is still running high after the killing of three members of the Dawabshe family in an arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists at the end of July.

Thursday’s shooting came hours after Netanyahu’s address to the UN, and a day after that of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who said Israel’s refusal to release prisoners and stop settlement activity was hampering fresh peace talks.

The site of Thursday’s shooting was near the Palestinian village Beit Furik, where a Palestinian died several days after being shot by Israeli forces during clashes last month.

Visiting the site of the shooting, Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said security forces would “spare no efforts to arrest the killers and their sponsors”.

The couple were buried on Friday at a funeral attended by several thousand mourners.

Following the attack settlers demonstrated at a number of locations across the occupied West Bank. Guardian service