KJust before midnight, the two men were picked up by a reconnaissance unit north of the West Bank discovered. According to the Israeli army, they were crouching near the barrier between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Squads of soldiers then approached the suspects from two directions. When they were only a few meters away at around 2 a.m., the two Palestinians suddenly began shooting at the soldiers; these returned fire.
The 30-year-old deputy commander of a reconnaissance unit was killed in the exchange of fire, as were the two 22- and 23-year-old Palestinians, who came from a nearby village near the city of Jenin. It was only on Tuesday that an army vehicle was shot at in the same place. The "Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades," which are close to the Fatah party, claimed responsibility for both attacks. It was unclear on Wednesday why the soldiers had come so close to the Palestinians, although it was unclear whether they were armed or not.
Israel fears an escalation
The deadly confrontation is one of many. The number and intensity of the clashes between the army and Palestinians in the West Bank have been increasing for months. In the current year, around 83 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or by settlers. That's the highest number in a year since 2015. While the army says in most cases those killed were involved in combat or attacked soldiers, others said several were bystanders. Another 35 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks during the exchange of blows with "Palestinian Islamic Jihad" in the Gaza Strip in early August.
At the same time, around a dozen mostly Israeli civilians and security forces have been killed by Palestinians from the West Bank so far in 2022. Most of these terrorist attacks took place in Israel in the spring. The army then increased surveillance of the border fence, which had become permeable in many places. In addition, military operations were intensified, especially in the north of the West Bank.
Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said a week ago that around 1,500 people had been arrested so far and that hundreds of attacks had been foiled. The army also speaks of more than 140 gun attacks on Israelis in the West Bank this year; more than twice as many as in 2021. In more than 250 cases, Palestinians threw explosive objects.
In political and security circles in Israel, the main reason for the increase in attacks is the weakness of the Palestinian security forces. These did not sufficiently crack down on members of other armed groups concentrated in the cities of Jenin and Nablus. Some observers, on the other hand, blame the military operations themselves for the increased tensions. The often night-time raids fueled resentment among Palestinians, leading to disillusionment with the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which remains inactive.
In Israel it is feared that there could be a further escalation during the upcoming Jewish holidays. Senior officials recently held talks in Ramallah to improve security cooperation. The meeting was fruitless; the PA demands that Israel first scale back its military actions. Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said on Wednesday that "targeted operations against terrorists" would continue, "and we will expand these operations where necessary". With just a few weeks to go before the election, nobody in the government wants to show any weakness.