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(photo credit: AP)
Security forces are attempting to piece together how two Judea and Samaria Traffic Police officers were shot dead by terrorists in the Jordan Valley, but some settlers in the area are already pointing a finger at the recent removal of a checkpoint near Nablus by the IDF as a factor.
Senior Warrant Officer Yehezkel Ramazreger and his partner, Chief Warrant Officer David Rabinovitch, were both buried on Monday.
Hours before Sunday night's shooting, the IDF removed a checkpoint near Beit Iba, west of Nablus, as part of what an IDF spokesperson described as a "general plan of goodwill measures authorized by the minister of defense and as a result of the significant decrease in terror attacks originating from Nablus."
The checkpoint's removal allows free passage for Palestinians from the villages of Kusin and Sarra to the Nablus area and eases passage from Nablus to Jenin and Tulkarm, the IDF said.
Shomron Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika said Sunday night's shooting was the first terror attack in the area in a long time and fell on the "very day that the encirclement around Nablus was removed."
Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, said, "[The] Olmert government's policy of removing checkpoints and releasing terrorists will exact a price. Unfortunately, all our warning calls did not help, and we have now already paid a high price in blood."
But an IDF source told The Jerusalem Post that linking the attack to the removal of the checkpoint was premature.
"A number of directions are being investigated at this moment. No direct connection between the checkpoint removal and the shooting is seen right now," the source said. "If one checkpoint is removed, that doesn't mean security in the area is gone. There are other set checkpoints in the area, as well as undercover operations and foot patrols by security forces."
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one possibility was that the gunmen had fled to a suburb of Nablus using a route that could not have been used in the past, but stressed that this was merely one of many possibilities being examined by police.
"Route 85 heads to Nablus. Therefore they could have gone in that direction," he said.
Sunday's shooting attack is being investigated jointly by the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the police. On Monday, a caller to the AFP news agency claiming to represent the "Imad Mughniyeh Group" claimed responsibility on behalf of the unknown organization, named after the former Hizbullah chief of staff assassinated in Damascus just over a year ago.
A defense source told the Post that the claim was being investigated, but cautioned against rushing to judgment.
"There have been many false claims in the past," the source warned.
Police have already concluded that the terrorists set a trap, stopping their vehicle on the side of the road and pretending to require assistance in changing a tire. Police forensic officers recovered a jack on the road's hard shoulder that they suspect belonged to the gunmen. One possibility is that the gunmen marched up to the patrol car that had stopped to help and quickly opened fire.
Immediately after the attack, senior officers in Judea and Samaria called officers in the field to caution them against suspicious behavior.
Judea and Samaria Police Spokesman Danny Poleg said officers in his district had always been trained to proceed with caution during police-civilian encounters.
"We know this is a restive area. Police are trained to interact with civilians here in a cautious manner. We still can't say what led this incident to end in the sorrowful and bitter way that it did," Poleg said.
He added that it was too early to discuss new regulations to increase officer safety.
"The investigation has just begun. Crime scene investigation units are analyzing the road and the car. We will know more further down the line," he said.