Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Thursday for “immediate international protection” after a Palestinian was shot dead by an Israeli in the West Bank.
The Israeli army said the shooter was defending a group of young hikers from Palestinians who threw stones at them.
A statement from Abbas’s office said the shooting was “conclusive proof for the whole world of the level of the ugliness of crimes carried out by settlers against the innocent Palestinian people.”
According to the Israel Defense Forces, a group of Israeli settlers, mostly children, came under attack during a hike near the Palestinian village of Qusra in the northern West Bank on Thursday, prompting their armed escort to fire into the crowd of Palestinians who were throwing stones at them, killing 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh.
One of the parents escorting the group said they opened fire at Odeh out of self-defense. “Our lives were in danger, as [the Palestinians] threw rocks and boulders at us,” he said.
According to Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, the slain Palestinian was working in his field when he was shot, and the mob only arrived at the scene in response to the gunshot.
Palestinian media circulated a picture of the deceased online.
During the clash, some of the hikers holed up in a cave south of Qusra. A video from the scene showed that their exit was blocked by a group of Palestinians. They were later rescued by Israeli security forces.
One of the children said a Palestinian man discharged pepper spray into the cave while they were inside it. The child, who gave an on-camera statement that was released by the Samaria Regional Council, said that a second group of Palestinians arrived at the entrance of the cave and helped drive back the initial group that was blocking their exit, until the army arrived.
The statement from Abbas’s office praised the actions of the Palestinians outside the cave.
“The Palestinian citizens were able to detain a number of settlers that attacked them. But their patriotic consciousness pushed them to hand over the settlers [to the army],” the statement said.
“This confirms the difference between the Palestinian citizen that seeks peace, stability, and security, and the settler that seeks to spill blood and kill with the protection of the occupation army,” the statement added.
Abbas’s Fatah party released a separate statement, calling the shooting terrorism.
“This crime reflects the real terrorism, and the true face of the colonial Israeli occupation, which wreaks across the land corruption, destruction, murder, and displacement against a people struggling for freedom, independence and the demise of the occupation of Palestinian state land,” the Fatah statement said.
The terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the incident showed that only violent “resistance can provide protection for the Palestinian people,” and called for attacks against Israel.
Islamic Jihad carried out a mortar attack against Israeli military outposts north of the Gaza Strip soon after the incident in the West Bank.
One of the Israeli escorts suffered a light head wound. Another sustained an injury to an arm, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service. They were both taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
An army spokesman confirmed that security forces retrieved a gun taken from one of the escorts during the clash, hours after denying that a gun was stolen during the clash.
Avraham Binyamin, a spokesperson for the Yitzhar settlement, said the hike was part of a “bar mitzvah trip for one of the children.”
Police opened an investigation into the incident.
The Yesh Din human rights organization said the hikers came from the nearby illegal Esh Kodesh outpost and entered Palestinian farmland outside Qusra.
The Samaria Regional Council said in a statement that there were approximately 100 Palestinians who attacked the group of children and parents.
It was not immediately clear if the Israelis coordinated their hike with the military, as is generally required in the West Bank.
Daghlas, the PA official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, said Israeli soldiers took Odeh’s body into custody as it was being taken to a hospital in the city of Nablus.
Judah Ari Gross and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.