Israeli troops in Hebron crackdown after shootings
Israeli forces on Saturday blocked exits from the southern West Bank city of Hebron as they launched a manhunt for alleged assailants after shooting incidents targeting Jewish worshippers and a soldier.
Two Israeli teens were shot and wounded on Friday at the flashpoint site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, the army said.
Around 4,000 Jewish worshippers were visiting Hebron on Friday and Saturday as part of a religious pilgrimage centred around the biblical matriarch Sarah, who according to tradition was buried in a field which eventually became part of the city Hebron.
A soldier was also shot and wounded on Friday near the Palestinian village of Beit Anon north of Hebron.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP there was “ongoing activity to locate the perpetrators of yesterday’s attacks”.
Israeli forces were searching Palestinian homes in and around Hebron as well as setting up new checkpoints for vehicles and people, an AFP reporter said.
In addition the army blocked off the northern entrance of Hebron with mounds of dirt. The eastern entrance has been sealed off for days.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem on Friday criticised the army for carrying out “immoral and unlawful” measures which it said hinder Palestinian freedom of movement in Hebron, including closing off the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood.
“These steps constitute collective punishment of residents of Hebron who are suspected of nothing and are forced to suffer serious disruptions in their daily lives,” the group said.
Hebron has 200,000 Palestinian residents with approximately 500 Israeli settlers living in the centre, protected by an army-patrolled buffer zone. The situation is a constant source of tensions.
Also on Friday a 72-year-old Palestinian woman was shot dead by soldiers after allegedly attempting to ram them with her car nearby Hebron.
Friday’s unrest broke a brief lull in the wave of deadly attacks and violent protests throughout October that raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.
Most of it had occurred in and around Hebron and mainly involved Palestinian stabbing attacks.
There were no clashes or attacks in the city on Saturday as troops searched for the assailants.
But an army spokeswoman said a soldier was slightly wounded by “an accidental discharge of a bullet near a military position in Hebron”.