Foreign Ministry summons UN Mideast envoy over sympathy for Palestinian attacker

Tor Wennesland expressed ‘horror,’ offered ‘heartfelt condolences’ to family of Ammar Mifleh, who Israel says was shot dead by border policeman he fought with after stabbing attack

UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland at a UN Security Council meeting in New York, November 28, 2022. (Video Screenshot/ UN; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland at a UN Security Council meeting in New York, November 28, 2022. (Video Screenshot/ UN; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Foreign Ministry summoned the United Nations envoy to the Middle East on Tuesday after he tweeted condolences and expressed “horror” over the killing of a Palestinian who Israel says carried out a stabbing attack in the West Bank.

The conversation with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland took place at the Foreign Ministry’s Jerusalem offices on Tuesday morning.

A Foreign Ministry official stressed to The Times of Israel that it was a “regular working meeting,” and was in no way a reprimand or a clarification. The Foreign Ministry did not release a statement after the meeting.

According to police, on Friday afternoon Ammar Mifleh tried to enter the vehicle of an Israeli couple in the town of Huwara, near Nablus. As he tried to break through the locked door, one of the occupants, an off-duty IDF officer, shot and wounded Mifleh with his handgun.

Mifleh then ran at a nearby Border Police officer and stabbed him in the face, lightly injuring him, officials said. Graphic footage posted to social media showed another Border Police officer then trying to apprehend Mifleh, as two other Palestinians tried to pull him free.

The officer managed to pull Mifleh away from them in a headlock, but Mifleh then briefly freed himself from the officer’s grasp and appeared to try and grab his rifle. The officer’s rifle then fell to the ground as he pulled a handgun from a holster and fired four times point-blank, killing Mifleh.

Wennesland later tweeted that he was “horrified by today’s killing of a Palestinian man, Ammar Mifleh, during a scuffle with an Israeli soldier near Huwara in the o[ccupied] West Bank.

“My heartfelt condolences to his bereaved family. Such incidents must be fully & promptly investigated, & those responsible held accountable,” he added.

Wennesland’s comments were lambasted by Israeli officials.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid backed the officer who shot the attacker.

“Any attempt to distort reality and tell false stories to the world is simply a disgrace,” tweeted Lapid. “Our security forces will continue to act determinedly against terror wherever it raises its head.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon also slammed Wennesland’s statement, calling it a “total distortion of reality.”

“This is NOT a ‘scuffle’ — this is a terror attack!” he added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also said he “strongly condemned” Wennesland’s remarks.

“I want to praise the police officer who neutralized a terrorist yesterday. I strongly condemn the attempts to present the event in a false and manipulative manner, and the statement of the UN envoy to the Middle East against the [officer], who acted with determination and professionalism,” Gantz said on Twitter.

Injuries caused to a police officer following a stabbing attack in the northern West Bank town of Hawara on December 2, 2022. (Israel Police)

Huwara Mayor Moein Dmeidy and others on Saturday cited secondhand accounts that said there had been an altercation between Mifleh and an Israeli motorist after a car accident, but Associated Press journalists were unable to find witnesses to the events that led up to the shooting.

Dmeidy argued the officer had no justification to kill Mifleh after he had already overpowered him. Mifleh was “killed in cold blood,” said the mayor, who arrived at the scene moments after the shooting.

Dmeidy said a Palestinian ambulance arrived minutes after the shooting but security forces prevented the medics from administering aid. Dmeidy said Israel has not handed over Mifleh’s body for burial.

Border Police said that the officer with stab wounds was subsequently taken for medical treatment, as was the officer who subdued the attacker.

A knife used by an alleged Palestinian attacker in the West Bank town of Huwara on December 2, 2022 (Israel Police)

Images of the officer who killed the stabber were posted to social media on Saturday, some including threats against him.

The officer himself said it could have been a “more significant attack” had the attacker managed to grab his gun.

“During a struggle with the terrorist I understand that if he succeeds in stealing my rifle, there will be a more significant attack here. I manage to pull out my handgun and I shoot the terrorist until he is neutralized,” he said in a video published by police.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who is set to become a minister in charge of the police, said he spoke to the officer who killed the attacker on Saturday and praised him for his actions.

Huwara is a frequent flashpoint, with a highway running through the town being a main route for settlers traveling in the northern West Bank.

Last week, Wennesland warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “reaching a boiling point.”

“High levels of violence in the occupied West Bank and Israel in recent months, including attacks against Israeli and Palestinian civilians, increased use of arms, and settler-related violence, have caused grave human suffering,” he said.

Mifleh was the ninth Palestinian killed in West Bank violence in less than four days.

Two Palestinian terror group members were killed in heavy clashes with Israeli troops that broke out during a predawn Thursday arrest raid near the northern West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp. Another Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank town of Yabed on Wednesday afternoon. Four Palestinians were killed in clashes with the IDF throughout the West Bank on Tuesday and another Palestinian was killed after carrying out a car-ramming attack that seriously wounded a soldier the same day.

Tensions have been high in the West Bank over the past year, with the IDF launching a major anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks.

The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left more than 150 Palestinians dead. Many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians.

Emanuel Fabian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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