Jewish settlers seek Palestinian traffic ban after soldiers killed

Two soldiers killed when Palestinian gunman stepped out of a car and fired into crowd

Palestinians take cover during clashes with Israeli troops in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Palestinians take cover during clashes with Israeli troops in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

 

Jewish settler leaders are pressing the Israeli government to ban Palestinian traffic from West Bank highways after two soldiers were killed in a shooting attack on Thursday – the second such incident in less than a week in the central West Bank.

“We are done agreeing to let our residents be killed,” said Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria settlers’ council. “We have a responsibility for the life of our residents and we are done being silent.”

Another settler leader, Yisrael Ganz, the chairman of the Binyamin settlers’ council, where the attack took place, said Palestinian cars should not be allowed on roads used by settlers. “The first step must be a total and immediate ban on the Arab population’s travel on route 60,” he said, in a reference to the West Bank’s main north-south artery.

Two Knesset members from prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition joined the call, threatening to quit the government unless the highways were closed to Palestinian vehicles.

The anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now called on the government to avoid giving in to the settlers’ demands. “The calls for revenge and for deepening the Israeli control over the West Bank are a cynical use of the murder and promote a messianic policy that endangers us all,” the NGO said.

Fired into crowd

The two soldiers were killed and a third soldier and a civilian seriously wounded when a Palestinian gunman stepped out of a car and fired into a crowd at a bus stop near Ramallah before fleeing towards the city.

Israeli troops sealed off Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government, set up roadblocks and carried out extensive searches following the shooting. Troops shot and killed a Palestinian driver who they claim attempted to ram his car into soldiers.

Thursday’s incidents were the latest in a surge of West Bank violence.

On Sunday, seven Israelis were wounded in a drive-by shooting at a bus stop close to the site of Thursday’s attack. One of the injured was a woman who was eight months pregnant; her baby died after an emergency C-section.

The Palestinian militant identified as the perpetrator of that attack was shot and killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday night, as was another Palestinian blamed for a separate West Bank attack in October, in which two Israeli factory workers were killed.

Blaming Israel

On Thursday morning another Palestinian was shot and killed after stabbing Israeli border police in Jerusalem’s old city.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas released a statement condemning the recent violence but putting the blame on Israel.

“The climate created by the policy of repeated raids into cities, incitement against the president and the absence of horizons for peace is what led to this unacceptable spate of violence, which we condemn and reject, and for which the two sides are paying a price,” he said. A Hamas spokesman praised Thursday’s attack, calling it “heroic”.

Some Israeli analysts linked the escalation to the Egyptian-brokered agreement between Israel and Hamas to restore calm to the Gaza border, saying Hamas was now devoting its energies to its West Bank militant cells.