An IDF officer was killed in an exchange of fire with two Palestinian gunmen near the village of Jalama, north of Jenin, early on Wednesday.
He was identified as Maj. Bar Falah, 30, deputy commander of the Nahal Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion. He was buried in the Netanya Military Cemetery on Wednesday evening.
The incident began around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night, when soldiers identified two suspects approaching the fence along the Seam Line near a military post. The suspects, who were not identified as being armed, approached to within 15 meters of the fence and laid down.
"A warrior who fought terrorism with all of his might and led his fighters until the last hour."Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the death of Maj. Bar Pelah
Forces, including Falah and OC Menashe Brigade Col. Arik Moyal, were deployed to the area where the suspects had been identified. A Zik drone was rushed to the area but was not used.
The forces split into two, one led by Falah and the other by Moyal, in an attempt to surprise the gunmen, who then opened fire on troops who had approached within several meters.
The soldiers did not know that the suspects were armed until they opened fire on them around 2:30 a.m. and hit Falah, OC Judea and Samaria Division Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth said.
Falah was able to fire at the gunmen before he was hit, he said.
“The force was a very skilled force that had been in the area for quite some time and carried out very challenging operations, including the home demolition of a terrorist’s house,” Bluth said.
The force had prevented an attack “since they were close to an IDF position,” he said. “It could have been an ambush that the terrorists planned against the position or against a patrol that was set to pass through that point.”
The two gunmen were identified by Palestinian media as Ahmed Abed, an intelligence officer in the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, and Abdul Rahman Abed, from the village of Kafr Dan, near Jenin.
Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took responsibility for the attack, saying both the shooters were members of the terrorist organization.
“Unfortunately, last night, we lost an officer who fought Palestinian terrorists in the field,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi said. “This is yet another manifestation of the challenges the IDF faces in all arenas and the security it provides for Israel’s citizens, sometimes at a heavy price. I convey my deepest condolences to the family and to his partner.”
Kohavi visited the scene of the firefight on Wednesday afternoon and took part in the preliminary investigation of the event, along with OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, Lt.-Col. Oren Simcha, Bluth, Moyal and other commanders.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid extended his condolences to Falah’s family and friends. He described Falah as “a warrior who fought terrorism with all of his might and led his fighters until the last hour. The operational activity in which he was killed thwarted a major terrorist attack and saved lives.”
President Isaac Herzog said: “Bar lost his life fulfilling the mission of protecting and maintaining the safety of the citizens of Israel. My condolences to his family, his partner and his loved ones.”
During a meeting with Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dincu on Wednesday morning, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Falah had “led the force as expected, bravely, to protect the citizens of Israel.”
“We will continue the targeted activity against terrorism in Samaria and everywhere and expand it as necessary,” he said. “We face the terrorists and make them pay heavy prices, and we will continue to face them. We will defeat terrorism militarily, and we will continue to be robust against it as a society.”
Later on Wednesday, Gantz visited the Jalama crossing, along with Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Rasan Alian and Bluth and received an overview of the incident and the overall situation in the area.
“The damage to security will, first of all, harm the Palestinian residents and the PA itself,” Gantz said, adding that he would extend the closure of the crossing until further notice.
“The fact that one of the terrorists belonged to the Palestinian Security Forces is serious, and it is a warning sign to the PA that it must act,” he said. “We will continue to act wherever necessary and whenever necessary to prevent terrorism. And I repeat: Where the PA will not exercise sovereignty, we will act to take care of our security.”
Following the deadly incident, COGAT announced that it halted entry permits, including work permits, for residents of Kafr Dan “until further notice.”
It added that over the past year it’s denied approximately 2,500 entry permits for relatives of Palestinian terrorists who committed attacks against Israelis.
Tensions rise in the West Bank
Tensions have spiked in the area in recent weeks as the IDF has increased its pressure on the northern West Bank with nightly arrest raids and other counterterrorism efforts, including continued work on closing the Seam Line to prevent Palestinians from illegally crossing into Israel.
Only a few hundred Palestinians cross the fence daily, down from some 30,000 who crossed before the IDF began work on the fence in June, Bluth said.
The IDF has focused on the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, from where the majority of terrorist attacks have originated. Violent clashes, often with heavy gunfire directed at soldiers, are becoming an almost regular occurrence during the raids.
Over the five months since it began, more than 2,050 counterterrorism operations have been carried out, during which some 1,500 wanted suspects were apprehended and hundreds of weapons seized. More than 90 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF.
Israel has come under heavy criticism for its open-fire regulations due to the high number of Palestinian fatalities, including by the US after Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed covering an IDF operation in Jenin in May.
There has been a sharp increase in shootings against IDF targets as well as civilian vehicles by Palestinian gunmen.
The incident came several hours after an engineering vehicle belonging to the Defense Ministry was fired upon near Jalama, but it was still unclear whether the two events were related, Bluth said.
“We are in the aftermath of eight or nine incidents of gunfire along the fence, including shootings from villages adjacent to the fence,” he said, adding that all troops deployed along the fence were aware that they could be targeted.
“These are no longer the days of sitting in chairs along the fence,” Bluth said. “All positions are behind concrete barriers. When suspicious movements are detected, troops go behind the barrier and fire a shot in the direction of the movement as well as in the air as part of the arrest procedure.”
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav told reporters the military would continue with its operational activity in the West Bank “without interruption.”
While the military “acts with restraint to avoid excessive friction, we will not compromise in countering terrorism,” he said. “We will continue to break the wave [of terrorist attacks] and fight for our homes along the Seam Line and deep in enemy territory and wherever else it is required.”