In the wake of the killing of an IDF soldier by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the immediate resettlement of Beit Hamachpela, a building near the West Bank city’s Tomb of Patriarchs which was previously boarded up by order of the Defense Ministry.
Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi, 20, from Tirat HaCarmel was shot in the neck at an IDF checkpoint near the Tomb of the Patriarchs and succumbed to his wounds in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
“Those who try to uproot us from Hebron, the city of our forefathers, will only achieve the opposite,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “We will continue to fight terrorism with one hand, and strengthen settlements with the other.”
An Israeli source in Hebron had said earlier in the evening that the city’s Jewish community was pressuring politicians to approve the resettlement of Beit Hamachpela. The building hit the headlines in late March 2012 after settlers made a clandestine move into the building.
At the time settlers produced paperwork showing that the building was purchased from local Palestinians, but the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry demanded the eviction of the occupants. In July, a military appeals committee ruled that the disputed building was indeed legally purchased and there was no reason to prevent the Israelis from living in it.
Sunday’s incident, the second killing of an IDF soldier by Palestinians in the past several days, came amid US-led peace efforts, which resumed in July after a nearly three-year break in negotiations. On Friday, Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, was lured to a village near Qalqilya in the West Bank by 42-year-old Nidal Amar, who kidnapped and killed him, in the hope of trading the corpse for his brother’s release from Israeli prison.
Washington condemned the killing of the soldiers and called on all parties to denounce the slayings.
“Such violence and terror are unacceptable, and undermine efforts to establish the positive atmosphere the parties need to progress in peace negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an emailed statement.
As part of the renewed talks, Israel agreed to release more than 100 long-term Palestinian terror convicts from its jails, in four phases. A first phase of the releases went ahead last month, and another is due shortly.
The West Bank settlers’ Yesha Council called on the government to cease talks with the Palestinian Authority immediately, and stop releasing the Palestinian terrorists.
Environmental Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) argued, however, that negotiations are the best response to extremists from either side, and said that what he called the attempt by right-wing radicals to take advantage of the pain of Kobi’s family ought to be condemned.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded to Kobi’s death Sunday, saying, ”The EU regrets the loss of life, urges for maximum restraint and reiterates its call to all parties to refrain from actions that could undermine the negotiation process and the prospects of peace.”