Relatives pushed back Sunday against Israeli claims that a Palestinian teacher intentionally rammed an Israeli police car before he was shot dead by security forces.
The family of 36-year-old Mohammed Abu Kafieh said he had no possible reason to carry out an attack, noting that he was a father of three and had just opened a new business. His relatives said they believe he accidentally crashed into a police car Saturday before troops opened fire.
“He is not the kind of man that commits attacks,” said Abu Kafieh’s cousin, Mohammed Nimer.
The army said the driver had tried to run over the soldiers, and characterized the incident as an attack. No soldiers were injured.
Images from the scene near the Havat Gilad settlement showed a damaged police vehicle next to the Palestinian car that crashed into it, after crossing from the opposite lane into the road’s shoulder.
The Israel Defense Forces said troops and police officers “identified a suspicious vehicle that accelerated toward them and tried to run them over.”
“An IDF soldier opened fire at the vehicle,” it said, and the shooter “was neutralized.”
In a separate incident on Thursday, a Palestinian man hit a soldier stationed near Huwara with his car, lightly injuring him, the IDF said.
The military initially believed that incident was an accident, but later said it was still probing the matter.
Palestinian assailants have carried out dozens of attempted stabbings and car rammings in recent years. Palestinians and human rights groups say that Israeli troops often use excessive force, and in some cases, have shot people who did not pose a threat.
Israeli troops have been on edge in the West Bank in recent months, after a terror spree killed 19 people earlier this year, and are on high alert this week due to the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Israel is closing crossings to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for Palestinians during the holidays as it does every year.
Palestinian gunmen have recently targeted numerous military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements, and civilians on the roads, and Israeli troops have repeatedly come under gunfire during nightly raids in Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
The alleged ramming incident took place near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank — the focal point of the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in the territory since 2015. Many terrorists who carried out recent attacks hailed from Nablus and the nearby city of Jenin.
While mourning together in the village of Beit Ijza near Jerusalem, family members told The Associated Press that Abu Kafieh was a loving father and well-liked in the community. He mentored students and had invited the community to an opening ceremony for a new business venture selling mobile phones and accessories.
He was on the road to Nablus to buy supplies for the opening of his shop when he was shot, his family said.
“The opening ceremony was today, he invited everybody,” Abu Kafieh’s sister Nuha said through tears while standing next to one of his three kids. “With God as my witness, he was not going to commit an attack or anything, he was looking out for his livelihood and the livelihood of his children.”
Dozens of people at the gathering of mourners paid respects beneath banners of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
One poster was a collage of Abu Kafieh alongside a key Islamic shrine, a Fatah-linked terrorist recently killed in an Israeli raid in Nablus, and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
It was not immediately clear what Abu Kafieh’s relationship to Fatah or its armed offshoot was, if any. At times, factions lay claim to Palestinians killed by Israel during the mourning period.
Nimer said the family is awaiting the return of the body from the army and hopes to be able to view footage from surveillance cameras from the area of the incident.
The army did not immediately respond to questions Sunday about the body but said that there was no surveillance video.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry alleged that Israeli forces had engaged in a “criminal execution.”
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in recent months, making 2022 the deadliest year in the territory since 2015. Most of the Palestinians killed have been wanted terrorists or young men and teenagers violently confronting soldiers, including throwing stones, firebombs or opening fire.
But some civilians, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and a lawyer who inadvertently drove into a battle zone, have also been killed in the violence.
In another incident, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a suspected Palestinian gunman during an arrest raid overnight in the northern West Bank. The group was thought to have been heading to commit a shooting attack in the area.
The army said it spotted a group of armed men traveling in a car and on a motorcycle during an operation near the city of Nablus and opened fire. The Den of Lions, a local terror group, said one of its members, Sayid al-Kuni, was killed in a “clash with the occupation forces.”
Later Sunday, the military announced the arrest of four suspects in the West Bank — including two in Nablus — as part of the months-long counter-terror crackdown. An IDF statement said gunfire was heard in the area during the operation.
Another suspect was detained in the Nablus-area village of Jalud, while the fourth was arrested in Hebron.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said earlier this month that the Shin Bet internal security service had thwarted hundreds of terror attacks this year.