IDF nabs Palestinians suspected of terrorizing West Bank highway
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IDF nabs Palestinians suspected of terrorizing West Bank highway

Religious Netzah Yehuda battalion ambushes alleged terror cell as it prepared to firebomb roadway for third week in a row

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion catch a group of Palestinians allegedly preparing to attack a West Bank highway with rocks and Molotov cocktails on June 16, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion catch a group of Palestinians allegedly preparing to attack a West Bank highway with rocks and Molotov cocktails on June 16, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Troops from the IDF’s religious Netzah Yehuda battalion busted a group of Palestinian men on Friday morning who are suspected of terrorizing a West Bank roadway with firebombings and rock-throwing attacks over the past three weeks, the unit’s commander said.

Having tracked the group’s activities and understood its modus operandi, the Netzah Yehuda battalion, sometimes known as the Nahal Haredi, laid a trap for the suspected terrorists along Route 458 in the central West Bank in the early hours of Friday morning, Lt. Col. Itamar Deshel told The Times of Israel over the phone.

Every Friday morning since the start of Ramadan in late May, between three and six suspects, traveling in one or two cars, attacked cars on the highway near the Kochav Hashachar settlement with “everything but firearms,” Deshel said. To make the cars easier targets for their rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires, the terrorists put large rocks or strips of nails on the road, Deshel said.

These early morning attacks did not result in any physical injuries to people — “thank God,” Deshel added — but they did cause significant damage to cars traveling along the road. Both Israelis and Palestinians travel along the 458 highway and both were therefore affected by the attacks, though the terrorists did apparently target vehicles with Israeli license plates, Deshel said.

‘I wouldn’t wish on anyone getting hit with a slingshot while they’re driving with kids in their car’

Windshields were smashed, cars were dented and scorched. “That’s not to mention the psychological damage to someone experiencing something like that,” Deshel said. “I wouldn’t wish on anyone getting hit with a slingshot while they’re driving with kids in their car.”

According to Deshel, during the weekly attacks, the suspects tried to make it difficult for the military to identify them, covering their faces with bandanas, as well as covering their cars’ license plates. Ultimately, that was to no avail.

On Friday at around 4:30 a.m., the six suspects pulled up to the 458 highway in two cars — the same vehicles they’d been using over the past three weeks — and started getting ready to attack vehicles on the road, Deshel said.

But unknown to the suspects, an IDF ambush team was lying in wait and their only route of escape was closed off.

“They arrived at the same time as we had expected. They got to the road. They started getting their stuff ready: the rocks, the Molotov cocktails. We saw all of it, of course,” Deshel said.

Soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion catch a group of Palestinians allegedly preparing to attack a West Bank highway with rocks and Molotov cocktails on June 16, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion catch a group of Palestinians allegedly preparing to attack a West Bank highway with rocks and Molotov cocktails on June 16, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“We sent a force to a covered area [nearby] without them noticing,” Deshel said.

Shortly before 5:00 a.m., “before the first civilian went by,” the Netzah Yehuda commander launched the operation, sending a team to force the suspects toward the ambush team.

“They tried to flee in their cars, but we stopped them with a blockade of rocks that we’d set up ahead of time along their escape route,” Deshel said.

“The [ambush] force jumped on them, with guns drawn. But without firing a shot, [the suspects] gave themselves up,” he said.

Upon searching their vehicles, Deshel added, the soldiers found “everything from rocks to Molotov cocktails, all of it and a lot of it.”

The suspects were all between the ages of 18 to 21, from the nearby village of Malik. The village is small, but, according to Deshel, has a reputation of being violent with a “culture of opposition.”

They did not have any known connection to terrorist groups.

Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox 'Netzah Yehuda' infantry unit seen studying at the Peles military base in the northern Jordan Valley. (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Soldiers of the IDF’s ultra-Orthodox ‘Netzah Yehuda’ infantry unit seen studying at the Peles military base in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The Netzah Yehuda battalion is a unit for religious soldiers, providing them special time for study and ensuring their dietary restrictions are met. Some of the soldiers in the unit are ultra-Orthodox, while others are simply religiously observant, but not specifically ultra-Orthodox. The battalion is part of the Kfir Infantry Brigade, which specializes in fighting Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank.

“Our job is to allow movement that’s free and totally safe for everyone who travels here, against the terrorist activities and ‘lone wolves’ who are trying their hardest to ruin people’s day-to-day lives,” Deshel said.

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