Palestinian gunman kills two in occupied West Bank

Two more people were wounded in the attack, near the site of a similar shooting this week

Israeli forces and forensic inspect the site of a drive-by shooting attack outside the West Bank settlement of Givat Asaf, northeast of Ramallah, on December 13, 2018.   / AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI

Two Israelis were killed and two wounded after a Palestinian gunman opened fire outside a settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday morning before fleeing, risking an escalation of violence in the area.

Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, praised the attack, calling it "heroic", but did not claim responsibility for the drive-by shooting.

It is not yet known who carried out the attack near Ofra, an Israeli settlement where a similar attack claimed by Hamas took place on Sunday. The majority of the international community considers these Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law.

The gunman opened fire at a bus stop near Asaf Junction, north of Jerusalem, the Israeli military said in a tweet, promising to find the perpetrator.

"Our forces comb the space for the terrorists who have fled the scene and are checking all the entrances and exits," the Israeli security service said.

Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said four people were in critical condition following the incident and pictures showed Israeli medics evacuating the injured.

Four hitchhikers in their early 20s were shot along the highway near the Ofra settlement. The gunman opened fire from his car, fleeing the scene immediately after, reports said.

One of the wounded was in a critical condition, and the second, a woman, was seriously injured, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said.

In response to Thursday's attack, Israeli security forces have stormed towns in the West Bank and increased their security presence in the area.

On Sunday a Palestinian gunman wounded seven people in a separate attack, which Hamas said was a "heroic" reaction to Israel's occupation of the West Bank. One of the victims was a pregnant woman whose baby later died.

“The heroic Ofra operation is an affirmation of our people’s choice and legitimacy in resisting the Zionist occupation and its settlers,” Abdelatif Al Qanou, a Hamas spokesman, posted on his Facebook page.

On Wednesday, Israel security forces shot dead a Palestinian suspected of shooting the seven Israelis.

The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that a suspect named as Salah Omar Barghouti who tried to evade capture during a raid on a West Bank village was shot and killed.

The statement did not say if Barghouti was suspected of being the gunman or an accomplice. It said an unspecified number of other suspects were arrested.

Palestinians have carried out a series of attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem in retaliation for what they say is daily humiliation at the hands of a military occupation that restricts their movements, impinges on their freedoms and fails to enact justice for crimes against Palestinians.

A picture of Palestinian Salah Omar Barghoutzi is seen framed at his family house in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 13, 2018. 


  Israeli security forces today shot dead Barghoutzi, suspected of the shooting of seven Israelis including a pregnant woman whose baby later died. The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that a suspect named as Salah Omar Barghoutzi who tried to evade capture during a raid on a West Bank village was shot and killed.
 / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI

The Shin Bet announcement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that those who carried out Sunday's drive-by shooting would be found and brought to justice.

In response to the attack on Sunday, Israel's hard-right nationalist Jewish Home party called for the legalisation of settlement homes in Ofra and for it to be made a regular Israeli town, despite its location in the West Bank. Israeli outposts, considered illegal under international law, host more than 400,000 Jewish occupants in the occupied territory.

Ofra, home to 3,500 settlers, was built on privately owned Palestinian land which Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Such attacks will spark fears of a tit-for-tat escalation in the West Bank. A similar escalation of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank led to the last war between the rulers of Gaza and Israel in 2014.

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