The IDF searched Thursday night for the Palestinian who killed two soldiers at a bus stop near Route 60 as a surge of unrest gripped the West Bank amid rising fears of a new wave of terror attacks against Israelis.
A diplomatic source said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a clear message to Hamas that Israel will take action against it if it deploys terror in the West Bank.
Referring to assessments that Hamas has decided to move the focus of its efforts to attack in and from the West Bank since a degree of quiet has now come to the Gaza border, “There will be no ceasefire in Gaza and the use of terror in Judea and Samaria,” the source said.
Staff Sgt. Yuval Mor Yosef, 20, of Ashkelon and Sgt. Yosef Cohen, 19, of Beit Shemesh were killed Thursday morning when a Palestinian gunman got out of his car and mowed them down as they stood at a bus stop at the T-Junction outside the outpost of Givat Assaf in the Binyamin region.
Another soldier and a civilian were seriously injured in the attack. The soldier was critically injured and doctors are still fighting for his life.
Just hours earlier, two police officers were stabbed in an early morning terror attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, according to the Police Spokesperson’s Unit. The police killed the assailant.
But it was the Givat Assaf attack that struck a more emotional note. It came after the late night funeral of a three-day-old baby boy born prematurely as the result of a drive-by shooting at a bus stop outside of the Ofra settlement, which injured seven, including the baby’s parents.
On Thursday, clashes broke out between IDF soldiers and Palestinians in several West Bank locations. Settlers and right-wing activists took to the streets, demanding better security and in some cases shouting for the prime minister – who now also holds the position of defense minister – to go home.
They held demonstrations along the roads in Judea and Samaria and also outside of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.
According to the Left-wing NGO Yesh Din, Israeli extremists attacked Palestinians in multiple locations across the West Bank on Thursday, vandalizing homes in Burin, Jit, Asira al Kibliya, Huwara and Beitilu.
They threw stones throwing at Palestinian vehicles at intersections blocked by the army, including by Yitzhar and Kedumim.
11 people have been killed in 2018 in seven deadly terror attacks in the West Bank, including the shooting attack that occurred Thursday.
This Jerusalem Post's map shows the sites of all the attacks:
Netanyahu responded by promising to improve security in the West Bank and tell Palestinians that Israel could not be destroyed by such attacks.
“If they think they will uproot us from our home, they will not succeed,” Netanyahu said.
In the aftermath of the attack, Palestinians and soldiers clashed on the outskirts of. US Ambassador David M. Friedman tweeted: “The Palestinian 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.”
The Palestinian Authority blamed Israel for the West Bank arrest and promised to hold a day of rage on Friday.
For hours, medical personnel, security official and firefighters worked to clean up all evidence of the attack from the bus stop and hitchhiking post on the small road that leads from Route 60 to Ramallah and Beit El.
IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis told reporters that “a car stopped at a hitchhiking spot and at least one suspect got out and fired shots toward both civilians and soldiers,” adding that the suspect got back into the car before it fled the scene.
Moments before the soldiers were attacked, they stopped for coffee and tea by Raz Chen’s small wagon coffee shop, which he had set up just the week before outside the Givat Assaf outpost.
“They had coffee and tea. They ordered Borekes and Malaweh. A few moments after they drank and ate, we heard shots,” said Chen, as he stood in the truck behind his counter, cutting up food for customers.
“We went out to the road. When we understood it was an attack, we went to help,” he said. “But to our sorrow, they were already dead.”
His truck is located in the parking lot, just below the Givat Assaf outpost, a small hilltop community of caravans that was built in 2001. If was named after Ofra resident Assaf Hershkovitz, who was killed there by a Palestinian gunmen.
Settlers believe that their presence at the junction is critical to ensure security on Route 60.
Givat Assaf secretary Menachem Bakush said that he already knows that when the prime minister talks about responding to the attack by authorizing Jewish building, his small community is not on that list.
Bakush, who is also a medic with United Hatzalah, said that he was among the first responders to the scene.
“It was a very difficult scene. You cannot describe it,” he said, adding that there was a lot of blood. “It was more like a massacre.”
Social workers were in the community on Thursday to talk with the residents, who said are fearful and angry.
Today and tomorrow, he said, people in this community have to go and stand at that bus stop and at the one across the road.
Settler leaders and protesters who arrived at the bus stop blamed Israel’s failure to improve security on the roads, with YESHA security head Shlomo Vaknin explaining that the Givat Assaf attack was the third shooting incident on that stretch of road that leads the Beit El settlement.
Vaknin said: “The situation on the roads is not getting better.” He explained that he believes that a new outbreak of West Bank violent was not about to happen, but has already occurred.
“We understand that we are no longer talking about something sporadic, but a series of attacks,” he said. “Some might even call it a wave of terror. The fact is this: We are failing to stop the terrorists before they attack. We are asking the prime minister to put barriers anywhere they can be put and to increase IDF presence in the area. Then, maybe we can stop these attacks.”
Beit El Regional Council head Shay Alon also called on the Israeli government to stop its policy of open roads to Palestinians.
“We cannot endure fatal weekly shootings on our roads. We must close the roads to the Palestinians immediately. We will fight for this with all of our might,” he said.
“I call on our political leaders to stop everything and rethink the policy on open roads to Palestinian residents,” Alon added, in a statement released on Thursday.
Israel Ganz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, said that the regional councils and schools in these communities will also go on strike Friday in protest of the ongoing terror attacks.
“Route 60 had been closed to Palestinians in the past – and since the road has been opened, there has been nothing but terror,” Ganz said.
Then, on Sunday, the councils will go on strike – including closing schools – to go to Jerusalem and “tell the prime minister, ‘Enough! Enough with the murders, enough with the spilled blood!’”
Ganz also held an emergency meeting to assess the situation outside of Givat Assaf, which was built in 2001.
As of Thursday night, the IDF continued to search for the Givat Assaf shooter, including in the nearby Palestinian city of Al-Bira, outside of Ramallah, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Soldiers killed a Palestinian who tried to run over one of the officers. The military imposed a closure on both cities that lasted into Thursday night.
Overnight, the IDF killed Saleh Omar Barghouti, who is suspected of having been part of a cell which carried out a shooting attack outside of Ofra on Sunday. Barghouti was the son of senior Hamas member Omar Barghouti from the town of Kobar.
According to a senior IDF officer, security forces are still working to locate all cell members suspected of taking part in the attack.
“We got one of the terrorists from the Ofra attack, but we are still working because we have to be sure we have the whole cell, so we are still in pursuit. It could be that this is it, but it may be that there are still others on the run,” he said.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked publicized a legal opinion by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit late Thursday which may lay the groundwork for legalizing around 2,000 Jewish living units in the West Bank.
The legal opinion made reference to moving forward with expedited proceedings in special military West Bank committees to recognize Jews' rights in a variety of circumstances over land where to date their rights were considered disputed or unauthorized by the government.
On Wednesday night, Israeli security forces shot dead a suspect and arrested a number of accomplices, but the military is not sure that the entire cell has been caught and is exploring whether Thursday’s attack may be connected.Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.