Negotiations to return the body of an 18-year-old Israeli snatched by terrorists from a hospital in the West Bank were underway late Wednesday evening, but with no apparent imminent deal, some members of the Druze community vowed to take action themselves.
Tiran Fero, from the Druze-majority town of Daliyat al-Karmel, was critically injured in a car crash in Jenin and taken to a hospital in the Palestinian city due to his severe condition. His family claims that Palestinian gunmen detached him from life support and grabbed him from the hospital, while initial reports indicated that he was already dead when he was taken.
Unnamed security officials have said that the suspects are demanding the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel or the bodies of deceased Palestinian terrorists being held by Israel in exchange for Fero, who was a senior in high school.
Various Israeli media reports Wednesday evening suggested that intensive negotiations are underway to secure the release of Fero’s body, involving those in the highest echelons of government and the security establishment in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel is seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis but is also preparing for a military operation to retrieve the body, Channel 13 reported.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Wednesday that “if Tiran’s body is not returned, the kidnappers will pay a heavy price.”
The Kan public broadcaster cited Palestinian officials as saying that there is a possible breakthrough in the talks to return Fero’s body, but that Israeli officials have rejected any demand for a prisoner exchange deal.
A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that the suspects snatched Fero thinking that he was an undercover Israeli soldier.
Former cabinet minister Salah Tarif, a member of the Druze community, told the Ynet news site on Wednesday that he is involved in the negotiations, and that talks have been conducted nonstop all day to secure Fero’s return.
Tarif said he reached out personally to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh about the issue, and that the most senior PA officials are involved: “This issue has even reached the head of Islamic Jihad in Beirut,” Tarif claimed.
Hadash-Ta’al chief MK Ayman Odeh was cited by Ynet on Wednesday evening as saying that he was also involved in the negotiations, and that “there are signs [Fero] may be released tonight.”
עשרות דרוזים חוסמים את כביש 6 במחאה על חטיפת גופתו של בן העדה, טירן פרו, בידי חמושים בג'נין
צילום: חדשות בזמן pic.twitter.com/2OOVvxFSg5
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) November 23, 2022
Anger over the snatching among Druze Israelis intensified Wednesday night, with thousands attending a protest march and blocking off a major highway near Daliyat al-Karmel.
More than one member of the community cited by the Walla news site said that if Fero’s body was not returned soon, they may attempt to enter Jenin and retrieve him themselves.
Channel 12 posted a video of five masked men holding rifles threatening to go into Jenin to retrieve the body if it was not returned by Thursday morning.
The mayor of Daliyat al-Karmel implored local youth not to take the law into their own hands and attempt to recover Fero’s body.
“Do not reach the Jenin checkpoint or the city of Jenin,” Rafik Halavi said in a video message posted to social media. “This may complicate the matter and change the equation.”
Videos posted online showed hundreds marching through Daliyat al-Karmel holding a Druze flag and chanting. Other posts showed demonstrators carrying a photo of Fero and his image displayed on a digital billboard in the center of the town.
דלית אל כרמל???? pic.twitter.com/v4yyKf3whB
— Real News IL (@RealNewsIL) November 23, 2022
מאות צועדים ברחוב הראשי של דלית אל כרמל וקוראים להשבת גופתו של טירן פרו המנוח, ולא, הם נכונים לצאת להביאה בעצמם. ״אנחנו דרוזים, אנחנו לא מפחדים למות״, קראו. pic.twitter.com/y2pOvBvCuz
— יואב איתיאל מדווח כי (@yoavetiel) November 23, 2022
Fero’s friends called on Israel’s entire Druze community to join them in protest, Channel 12 reported.
One of the demonstrators said, “This is the first step. We’re going to turn the country upside down.”
While initial reports by the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian media indicated that Fero had already died when he was snatched by unidentified gunmen, comments by his uncle Wednesday morning suggested otherwise.
“They were shooting in the air and shouting in Arabic… nobody dared to stop them,” Edri Fero told Kan. “They disconnected him from the machines and tossed him into a car.”
Edri said Tiran “had traveled to Jenin to fix his car with a friend,” and was involved in a car crash, adding that “he must have lost control of the vehicle on the way there.”
Several Palestinian sources have indicated that Tiran’s body is being held in the Jenin Refugee Camp. Palestinians have set up barricades around the city in anticipation of an IDF raid.
On Wednesday morning, COGAT, the military’s liaison to the Palestinians announced that the Jalamah and Salem checkpoints in the northern West Bank would be shuttered until further notice following the incident.
The checkpoints are predominantly used by Arab Israelis who travel to the Palestinian city of Jenin and the surrounding area for business or leisure, and by Palestinians who need to travel to Israel for work. The closure is expected to take an economic toll on the Jenin area, which was already the focus of a months-long Israeli anti-terror offensive.
Just before midnight on Wednesday night, COGAT said that the Jalamah and Salem crossings would also be closed for the transfer of goods beginning Thursday morning. The statement from COGAT added that the Israeli security establishment “demands the Palestinian Authority return the body of the Israeli youth to his family in Israel.”
AFP and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.