An Israeli woman and her daughters who drove into the Palestinian city of Nablus in the West Bank were detained by Palestinian security forces and handed over to Israeli authorities unharmed, just hours before the start of Yom Kippur on Tuesday evening.
It was not immediately clear why the family, from Elad in central Israel, drove into the Palestinian city, which is located inside Area A of the West Bank. Area A is officially under complete Palestinian Authority control, though the Israeli military conducts activities there. The IDF bars Israeli citizens from entering Area A without prior authorization.
Hebrew reports on Wednesday evening said the woman and her children had entered the city with a Palestinian friend and were shopping together in the heart of the local casbah when they and their Israeli vehicle, with Israeli registration plates, were spotted.
Armed Palestinians shot in the air upon seeing the Israeli vehicle with the group and questioned them before transferring them to Palestinian security forces, Hebrew media reported. They were questioned again and escorted outside the city to be handed over to Israeli security forces.
A source in the Israeli security establishment praised the quick response of the Palestinian authorities, telling Ynet that “without the quick and sharp reaction of the [Palestinian security forces]…the event would have ended with four bodies.”
The military spokesperson’s office said in a statement that “Israeli citizens had entered the city of Nablus and left accompanied by the Palestinian security forces,” adding that the Israelis will be questioned by Israeli authorities.
“We emphasize that entering Area A is prohibited and dangerous for Israelis,” the IDF said in the statement.
According to the Ynet report, the family members were stopped by a Nablus-based militia dubbed “Lion’s Den” in the West Bank city. The militia said in a statement that the Israeli citizens were accompanied by a Palestinian resident of Qalqilya, also in the West Bank, and that they were “dealing with the person who brought them.”
The group said the woman and children were strolling in the old city of Nablus when they were spotted by militia members who proceeded to detain them.
“We apply the words of our prophet [Muhammad] in that we do not kill children and women. For the sake of their children, and in applying God’s word, they were handed over to the proper authorities,” the group said in a comment cited and translated by Ynet.
Separately, an Israeli police officer was lightly injured on Tuesday near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, south of Nablus, during what the military said was a routine inspection of a Palestinian vehicle.
The military said the driver appeared to try to flee and “run over” the forces who opened fire. It was not clear who shot the officer. The driver of the vehicle was also injured.
Nablus, and the neighboring city of Jenin, have been particular hotspots of violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen in recent months.
The two northern West Bank cities have seen near nightly Israeli raids aimed at arresting individuals whom the military says are Palestinian terror chiefs responsible for a wave of attacks earlier this year that took the lives of 19 people in Israel and the West Bank. The army says many of these fighters are seeking to carry out additional attacks against Israelis.
Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the anti-terror operation in the spring and over 200 Palestinians have been killed in what has become the deadliest period in the West Bank in years. Most of the dead have been wanted militants who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.
There have also been several failed shooting attacks targeting Israelis in the past two week that have led to the IDF being placed on high alert in the West Bank.
Security officials have received more than 80 warnings or intelligence tips about possible terror attacks as Jewish Israelis observe Yom Kippur, according to Hebrew-language media reports.
According to Channel 13 news on Monday, 26 military battalions received reinforcement over Yom Kippur and thousands of Israeli soldiers will remain in the West Bank and along the security barrier.
Last week, the Israeli security establishment reportedly decided to indefinitely halt visits to Joseph’s Tomb located in Nablus due to the heightened security situation in the West Bank.
Joseph’s Tomb is revered by some as the final resting place of the biblical Joseph. Visits to Joseph’s Tomb by Orthodox Israelis take place on a monthly basis, if not more frequently, and almost always spark violent clashes with Palestinian locals when the IDF enters Nablus beforehand to secure the area for the arrival of the hardline pilgrims.
There is no indication the Israeli women and children were trying to get to the site.