Two Israeli soldiers have been wounded, the military says, in a drive-by shooting claimed by a Palestinian armed group in the flashpoint town of Huwara in the occupied West Bank.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) said in a statement on Saturday that it had carried out the shooting. The military said it was in pursuit of the suspect.It was the third shooting reported within a month in Huwara, a town that has been a focus of Israeli military raids and a settler rampage in recent weeks.
The incident raised fears of escalation during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan which partly coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover, a time when violence has touched off in the past.
Reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim said that “any hope of this being a calm beginning to the holy month of Ramadan evaporated on this first Saturday of the month”.
“One soldier, according to the Israeli military, has been severely injured. The other soldier is facing moderate injuries and the hunt is on for the shooter or shooters,” she added.Immediately after the shooting, the main thoroughfare leading into Huwara and shops were closed while checkpoints around the town prevented people from getting through.
“People were prevented from moving on the main thoroughfare,” said Ghoneim, adding that there were clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army as it entered Huwara.
Israeli media said dozens of settlers held a protest at the entrance of Huwara following Saturday’s shooting and that Israeli forces prevented them from entering the town.Escalating tensions
Allaying some concerns that the holy month would witness violence, the first Friday Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – a tinder-box holy site in Jerusalem, ended peacefully.On Saturday night, Israeli police said they had entered the shrine to remove some worshippers who remained in the mosque after the night prayers, claiming they were planning to “violate public order” and disrupt early morning prayers and visits by Israelis and tourists. Muslim worshippers often spend the night in mosques, praying and reading the Quran all night.
There has been no immediate response to Saturday night’s removals from Palestinian or Muslim officials who have in the past condemned Israeli forces entering the shrine.Last week, Israeli and Palestinian officials made commitments at a meeting in Egypt to de-escalate violence during Ramadan.
A Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli settlers in a car in the same town during the first round of Israeli-Palestinian de-escalation talks last month in Aqaba, Jordan. This was followed by a rampage by Israeli settlers who killed a Palestinian man and torched dozens of houses and cars.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose recent comments about the Palestinians, and earlier about Huwara saying it should be “wiped out”, have drawn widespread criticism, said Israel must not let attacks from the town become routine..
Israeli settler-related violence targeting Palestinians has reached its highest levels since 2006, the United Nations told Al Jazeera.
A daily average of three violent incidents per day has been recorded in 2023, compared with two incidents per day in 2022, and one incident per day in 2021.