Terrorists went on a shooting rampage outside Ariel in Samaria late Wednesday morning, seriously wounding a soldier and lightly wounding a civilian waiting at a hitchhiking post before speeding down a busy road while firing at passing cars.
The Fatah-affiliated Aksa Martyrs Brigades took responsibility for the attack.
The attack began at the Ariel junction, where a gunman in a blue van sprayed a hitchhiking post with bullets from 100 to 150 meters away. Eyewitnesses said the vehicle had approached the intersection from the west and then parked in a position with a good view of the hitchhiking post. After apparently identifying a target - a young man who was dressed in civilian clothes but carrying a weapon - the shooters drove to a point opposite the station and opened fire.
The victim, a 20-year-old soldier, was hit several times in the lower body; the van only sped off after its occupants saw that the soldier had collapsed, eyewitnesses said. A Kfar Tapuah resident who was standing behind the protective concrete blocks at the station escaped uninjured.
The attackers continued east toward the Tapuah junction, with the gunman shooting at passing cars to the right and left.
Five cars, including one leased by the IDF - were hit by the automatic rifle fire near the village of Manda. A driver from Ma'aleh Ephraim, was lightly wounded by shrapnel.
Shimshon Shpiegelman, a medic and ambulance driver with Hatzalah Judea and Samaria, was in the Manda area when he heard about the attack outside Ariel.
"En route to the scene, I saw a large volume of traffic coming toward me, and, in retrospect, one of those vehicles was the terrorists themselves. All of the cars behind me - whom I had passed around Tapuah - were the ones that were shot at," he said.
Shpiegelman, who is also a Magen David Adom volunteer and a local security coordinator, praised the quick response of local MDA teams. "MDA was on the scene almost instantly, and I think that their reaction and the emergency measures they took saved the soldier," he said.
Police and IDF troops set up roadblocks throughout the area and searched for the shooters. In the afternoon, security forces said they had located the vehicle used in the attack, burned and abandoned in an olive grove outside of the nearby Palestinian village of Jamma'in.
A video from the security cameras at a nearby Palestinian-owned business documenting the morning's events was given to security forces, who are reviewing it for information about the shooters. In addition, emergency responders said that at least one Palestinian passerby had witnessed the incident and would be questioned.
Security forces said that they believed the entire attack had been carefully planned in advance, and that a second getaway car had been waiting for the shooters in the oil grove.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip described the attack as an "inevitable result" of the government's recent gestures toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which Israel released security prisoners.
"We warned that releasing terrorists and removing others from the list of fugitives would lead to terrorist attacks," the council said in a statement. "Rather than trying to strengthen [Abbas], which is bound to fail, the government should increase the security of Israeli citizens."
The busy Ariel junction near the Eshel Hashomron hotel has been the scene of several attacks in the past.
In 2002, three soldiers were killed and 19 people were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself in approximately the same location, while a number of other bombings targeted a bus stop on the other side of the road.