Four Palestinians and two Israelis were killed between Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon in a series of attacks and search and arrest operations in the central occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In the late hours of Wednesday night, Israeli special forces raided the Ramallah-area town of Surda to detain 29-year-old Saleh Omar Barghouthi, who the Israelis claim was responsible for a shooting attack on Sunday near the Ofra settlement that left seven Israelis injured.
Barghouthi was reportedly injured while attempting to flee, and later succumbed to his wounds. His body has yet to be returned to his family.
Israeli media and officials have widely reported that Barghouthi’s father, Omar Barghouthi, is a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank, implying that his affiliation with Hamas could have influenced his alleged participation in the attack.
Barghouthi’s family members however told both Haaretz and Middle East Eye that Saleh was not influenced by his father’s politics, and casted doubts as to whether Saleh was the actual perpetrator of Sunday’s attack.
A few hours after Barghouthi was killed, Israeli special forces conducted a second operation in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, where they killed 23-year-old Ashraf Na’alwa, who had been on the run from Israeli security forces for two months.
Na’alwa shot and killed two Israelis in October in the Barkan Industrial Zone in the West Bank, where he worked.
The families of the Israeli victims have openly supported plans by the Israeli government to punitively demolish Na’alwa’s family home, and have called for his family to be expelled from Palestine in order to “deter copycat attacks.”
A week ago, the Israeli High Court rejected a petition by Na’alwa’s family appealing the decision to demolish their home.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fast-tracked punitive home demolitions in an effort to “deter” attacks carried out by Palestinian individuals since a wave of unrest peaked in the occupied Palestinian territory in late 2015.
The move came despite past recommendations by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem has condemned the practice of punitive home demolitions as “court-sanctioned revenge” carried out on family members who have not committed crimes, amounting to collective punishment.
In a separate, seemingly unrelated incident on Thursday around 5am, Israeli border police forces shot and killed a young Palestinian man in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, after he attempted to stab the soldiers.
The slain Palestinian was identified as Majd Mteir, 25, from the Qalandiya refugee camp in Ramallah. Two Israeli officers were reportedly lightly wounded in the incident.
Later on Thursday afternoon, in what is being reported as a “revenge attack” for the three Palestinians who were killed overnight, alleged Palestinian attackers opened fire on a settler bus stop near the Ofra settlement, north of Ramallah.
Two Israelis soldiers were killed, while another soldier and settler were severely injured. The attacker fled the scene, leading Israeli security forces to enforce massive closures in and around the Ramallah area.
Shortly after the attack, local Palestinian media reported that Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian vehicles in the Nablus district, near the notoriously violent Yitzhar settlement, in an “alleged revenge attack.”
Videos on social media showed the settlers running across the major road hurling large rocks at stopped Palestinian cars, as Israeli security personnel stand by in the background.
Ma’an News Agency reported that three Palestinian cars were attacked, resulting in the injury of one Palestinian.
At around 4:45 pm on Thursday, reports emerged saying that another Palestinian had been shot and killed in the town of al-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, where Israeli soldiers were heavily deployed.
The Israeli army claimed that the Palestinian was attempting to carry out a car ramming attack, but witnesses told Ma’an News Agency that it was “merely a car accident, as the driver was surprised with Israeli soldiers in his way and attempted to turn away from them before the heavily opened fire at him.”
Palestinian activists and rights groups have over the years casted doubt on a number of incidents in which Israeli forces killed a Palestinian while driving, saying that what could have been a car accident was wrongfully interpreted by the soldiers as an attempted attack.
Meanwhile, clashes broke out between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers in several areas across the central and northern occupied West Bank, in response to the heavily increased Israeli presence in the areas.
The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society reported that between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Israeli forces arrested 56 Palestinians from across the occupied territory.
In the center of Ramallah city, demonstrations erupted calling for another intifada.
As the day’s events unfolded, Israeli media and officials pointed largely to Hamas as being responsible for this week’s shooting attacks, saying Hamas was attempting to send a message just a day before the anniversary of the group’s founding.
Hamas did express its support for the attacks, but stopped short of claiming responsibility. The group released a statement on Thursday welcoming “the heroic action which is a response to the crimes of the occupation and its behavior,” adding that “the youth of the West Bank will continue to fight.”
While the right-wing Israeli government and aligned media institutions have largely perpetuated the narrative of Palestinian assailants who are incited to violence whether by formal political affiliations or by peers on social media, analysts have dismissed the narrative as being overly simplistic.
Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as reasons for the outbreak of violence that started in October 2015, and has intermittently continued since.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman took to Twitter to condemn the attacks, saying that the Palestinian Authority (PA) “maintains laws that will compensate these terrorists and their families for their heinous acts. The PA can be a political body OR a sponsor of terror, not both.”
In the past week #Palestinian terrorists have killed or wounded 14 #Israelis in multiple attacks. The Pal Authority maintains laws that will compensate these terrorists and their families for their heinous acts. The PA can be a political body OR a sponsor of terror, not both.
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) December 13, 2018
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the latest round of violence, criticizing both Israeli and Palestinian actions.
In a statement, Abbas accused Israel of “creating a climate conducive to violence through its frequent military operations in Palestinian cities.”