A Palestinian group claiming affiliation with Hamas took responsibility for a cold-blooded terrorist attack Friday in which an Israeli man was killed and a second injured.
A group calling itself the “Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha Squad,” named for the two terrorists who kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers last summer, claimed responsibility for the attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev earlier on Friday. The group said it was affiliated with the armed wing of Hamas and said it lay an ambush in the area and opened fire when it ascertained the two men were Israeli.
The group said it carried out its “operation” as part of a series of attacks in advance of the one year anniversary of the deaths of Kawasme and Abu Aysha, who were killed in a shootout with the IDF last September after a months-long manhunt.
The same group claimed responsibility for throwing an explosive device at IDF soldiers in the village of Silwad near Ramallah three weeks ago, Ynet reported. It’s affiliation with Hamas wasn’t immediately clear.
Hamas lauded Friday’s attack, with Spokesperson Hussam Badran in Gaza saying the Islamist group “look[s] with respect and appreciation for the pure hands that uphold the resistance and aim its bullets at the occupier despite all the difficulties and challenges in the West Bank.”
The spokesperson stopped short of claiming Hamas responsibility for the attack, but said it supported acts of “resistance” against Israel by any group.
In an apparent response to the shooting attack, the Palestinian Islamist terrorist group tweeted Friday night that “Zionist crimes against our people won’t go unanswered. Blessed are the hands that resist the occupation despite the obstacles.”
Gonen, 25, from the central city of Lod, died after succumbing to injuries sustained when he was shot near Dolev, northwest of Jerusalem. He was found unconscious and transferred to Tel Hashomer Hospital by IDF helicopter where he died over an hour after the attack.
Gonen was an electrical engineering student and the eldest of five siblings.
A second man, whose identity was not immediately made public, was moderately hurt in the attack and was being treated at Tel Hashomer.
The two men were traveling in their car after visiting a spring near Dolev, when they were flagged down by a Palestinian man, seemingly asking them for assistance. He then pulled a gun out of a bag he was carrying and opened fire on them at point-blank range, mortally wounding Gonen.
“The Palestinian asked for information regarding a nearby spring moments before drawing a gun and shooting the passengers at close range,” according to a statement released by the IDF.
The fatal incident took place in a West Bank area that Israelis are barred from entering without prior coordination with the security authorities, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
The IDF and Israel Police forces launched a manhunt for the gunman in nearby Palestinian villages.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the incident proved that Israelis are under constant threat.
“We mustn’t let the relative calm mislead us. Efforts to hurt us (Israelis) are underway at all times, and we will continue to fight them using all the means available to us,” he said.
President Reuven Rivlin condemned the attack, which he said was “another step in the quiet and serious escalation in acts of terrorism we have witnessed in recent months,” and called on Palestinian and Arab-Israeli leaders to do the same.
“We will not accept a situation in which a young hiker has his life taken from him in the land of Israel because he is Jewish. Security forces will work tirelessly to bring to justice those responsible for this cruel and brutal act. There should be heard clear and decisive condemnation of such criminal acts from both the Arab leadership, which bears responsibility for actions of terrorism emanating from its territory, as well as from the leaders of the Arab community in Israel,” Rivlin wrote on Facebook.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, issued a statement also condemning the attack and calling for calm.
“I condemn today’s deadly shooting attack on an Israeli civilian vehicle traveling in the occupied West Bank.
On this second day of Ramadan and at the start of the Shabbat, I call on all sides to exercise the utmost restraint, to maintain calm and promptly bring the perpetrators to justice,” Mladenov said.
Israel saw a wave of so-called “lone wolf” attacks last year by Palestinians using guns, knives and vehicles in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank. Over two dozen Israelis were killed in these attacks, including children. Police say it’s difficult to stop such attacks because assailants act on their own, without working through established terror groups.
Three Israeli teenagers were wounded by a Palestinian who hit them with his car near the Alon Shvut settlement in the West Bank last month, with the Shin Bet domestic security service saying the perpetrator had confessed to carrying out the attack for nationalistic reasons.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.