Six Palestinian suspects said arrested in pre-dawn raids

Clashes break out in Nablus as soldiers search for rabbi’s killers

Manhunt for terrorists behind Tuesday’s northern West Bank shooting attack enters fourth day; army says checkpoints remain in place

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

Illustrative: A Palestinian protester throws a firebomb during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of al-Ram, near Ramallah, on September 27, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Palestinian protester throws a firebomb during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of al-Ram, near Ramallah, on September 27, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Residents of the Palestinian city of Nablus threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops searching the area during a pre-dawn arrest raid on Friday, the army said.

The soldiers retaliated with riot dispersal methods, the military said in a statement.

The arrests came amid an ongoing manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack in which an Israeli father of six was gunned down on a nearby West Bank highway on Tuesday night.

On Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces announced that it was keeping in place a series of checkpoints in the Nablus area that it set up following the shooting attack.

“The entrances and exits to and from the villages surrounding Nablus and the city of Nablus are still accessible, but only after security checks,” the army said.

“The intelligence effort is ongoing, along with operations and searches conducted by [infantry units and] special forces,” the military added.

Israeli soldiers inspect cars at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 10, 2018. (Jaafar/Ashtiyeh/AFP)

It was not immediately clear if the man arrested in Nablus early Friday morning — identified by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency as Muathe Rayan — was connected to the army’s manhunt, or if he is suspected of an unrelated crime.

On Thursday afternoon, clashes broke out in a village outside Nablus in response to a checkpoint that was set up in the area.

According to Palestinian officials, Israeli forces shot dead one protester and injured four more. The IDF confirmed that shots had been fired during the clash, but would not comment on Palestinian casualties.

According to the official Palestinian Wafa news outlet, five members of a Palestinian family were also arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Friday from the village of Illar, northeast of Tulkarem, and soldiers seized from their house some NIS 23,070 ($6,750) worth of shekels, Jordanian dinars and US dollars.

The military would not comment on the confiscated funds, nor the report that five people were arrested in Illar.

An army spokesperson said she could only confirm that security forces arrested four Palestinian suspects on Thursday night and Friday morning, including the person in Nablus.

Since Tuesday night, the IDF has been maintaining checkpoints and searching villages and cities in the northern West Bank in order to find the terrorists behind the deadly shooting attack.

Israeli soldiers search the area around the West Bank city of Nablus on January 11, 2018, as part of a manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack outside a nearby settlement. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, shortly before 8 p.m., 35-year-old father of six Rabbi Raziel Shevach was driving in his car on the highway near his home in the Havat Gilad outpost when shots were fired at him from a passing car.

Shevach, a volunteer medic, was shot in the neck, but managed to call his wife and tell her to call an ambulance. Civilian and military medics rushed to the scene and tried to stop the bleeding as they took Shevach to Kfar Saba’s Meir Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after life-saving efforts failed.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach with his family, in an undated photo (Courtesy of the family)

According to a Kan television report on Wednesday, the shooter used a mass-produced firearm — not a locally produced Carlo-style submachine gun — in the attack and appeared to be “well-trained.”

In a rare move, the Hamas terrorist group’s military wing quickly released a statement praising the attack on Tuesday night, calling it “heroic” and a sign of future attacks to come, though the organization did not take responsibility for the shooting.

“The attack outside Nablus is the first real response to show the leaders of the enemies and those that are behind them (the United States), that things that you fear — are coming,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israeli defense officials have repeatedly warned that the Gaza-based terrorist group is looking to carry out attacks in the West Bank.

Immediately following the attack, troops launched a manhunt, setting up roadblocks in the area around the Palestinian city of Nablus — with a population of over 150,000 — as they looked for the perpetrators.

Israeli soldiers set up a security checkpoint in the northern West Bank after a terror attack on January 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Those checkpoints — what the army often refers to as a “breathing closure” — remained in place on Wednesday and Thursday, causing significant traffic jams in the area.

Following both the shooting attack and Shevach’s funeral on Wednesday, several incidents of settler violence were reported in the West Bank, mostly young Israeli men throwing rocks at Palestinian people, houses and cars in nearby villages.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot toured the area of the attack on Wednesday morning, meeting with the head of the army’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa; the head of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Eran Niv; and the head of the Samaria Brigade, Col. Gilad Amit.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (center), and other senior officers from the army’s Central Command visit the area where a terror attack took place the previous night, on January 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The main mission at the moment is to locate the cell, to stop it and to prevent further terror events, and also to prepare for further activity in the area over the weekend,” Eisenkot said.

The head of the local settler council, Yossi Dagan, has harshly criticized the government for failing to install security cameras in the area.

“If they had been [installed], these vile murderers would have been caught. Raziel was killed near the community of Gilad Farms, where there are no security instruments, despite repeated requests from my regional council,” Dagan said in a statement.

“This terrible attack should be a tremendous warning sign,” he added.

In November, Dagan launched a hunger strike — along with representatives of bereaved families — calling on the government to immediately transfer funds to improve security infrastructure in the West Bank. The campaign ended with an agreement signed by Netanyahu that put into writing a pledge to earmark NIS 800 million ($228 million) of the 2018 budget for West Bank roads and infrastructure development.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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