6 of 8 suspects held for settlers' Huwara rampage released

Hunt for terrorists who killed 3 continues; 8 detained in overnight West Bank raids

Forces searching for gunman who shot 2 brothers to death in Huwara and pair who killed Israeli-American near Jericho, among other suspects in shooting attacks in region

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF soldiers patrol the main road in Huwara in the West Bank, on February 27, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP)
IDF soldiers patrol the main road in Huwara in the West Bank, on February 27, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP)

After a brief lull in West Bank operations, Israeli troops detained eight wanted Palestinians during overnight raids, as manhunts continued for a number of terrorists who killed three Israelis in recent shooting attacks, the military said Tuesday morning.

Violence has spiked since two Israeli brothers from the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha were shot to death on Sunday in the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara. Settlers seeking revenge rampaged through Huwara hours later, further inflaming the volatile situation. One Palestinian was killed and hundreds more were hurt amid the violence.

On Monday night, a shooting near Jericho killed a visiting Israeli-American man and a number of other attacks targeted Israeli civilians, causing no severe injuries.

The attacker who carried out the deadly shooting in Huwara, killing Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, was believed to be in one of the Palestinian towns in the area. The gunmen who killed 27-year-old Israeli-American Elan Ganeles fled toward the Jericho area after police attempted to engage them.

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday morning said troops detained eight suspects during overnight raids across the West Bank, marking the first such operation in nearly a week.

The IDF’s nightly raids have been on pause since a major raid in the West Bank city of Nablus last week, and ahead of and following a Jordan-hosted meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials on Sunday whose goal was to restore calm to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, early February 28, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military said troops detained four wanted Palestinians in the al-Aroub refugee camp near Hebron; three in Yabed, a town near Jenin; and an additional terror suspect in Idhna, a town in the southern West Bank.

None of the detainees were thought to have been related to the recent shooting attacks.

The eight suspects were handed over to the Shin Bet security agency for further questioning.

Separately on Tuesday, the Shin Bet said another eight Palestinian suspects were detained in recent weeks over a string of shooting attacks in the West Bank, all without causing injuries.

The agency said Belal Barghouti and Ahmed Aqel, residents of the West Bank town of Bayt Rima, were responsible for two shooting attacks against the Qalandiya checkpoint on December 7 and January 26, and another attack against an Israeli civilian near the Palestinian city of Rawabi on February 3.

Other suspects named by the Shin Bet included Ahmed Manasra and Alaa Manasra, residents of the Qalandiya refugee camp, allegedly responsible for an attack against the nearby checkpoint on January 27; Ahmed Abu Arida, a resident of Beitunia, allegedly responsible for a shooting attack on January 27 at the nearby Beitunia checkpoint; and Muhammed Makhrouk and Jibril Zbeidi, residents of the Jalazone refugee camp and allegedly behind a shooting attack on December 18 against the settlement of Beit El.

Military officials believe the spiraling violence will continue into the Muslim Ramadan holy month, which begins at the end of March.

The head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen Yehuda Fuchs, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a security briefing that the Huwara rampage threatened to push the situation out of control, Channel 13 news reported.

A mob of settlers looks on as cars and homes they torched burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

“Another night of riots like that, and we’ll reach a point of no return,” Fuchs told Netanyahu.

“All of us went through an intifada, but no one went through an intifada that had online incitement, which makes the riot even more dangerous,” Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar said in the security discussion with Netanyahu, the network reported.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday issued orders to prepare for an escalation in other areas, including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Tensions have also spiked between Israeli troops and extremist settlers.

The IDF said a group of settlers who hurled stones at Israeli forces in the West Bank attempted to ram an officer with a vehicle on Monday night. In a separate incident on Sunday, the IDF said a senior officer was assaulted by a group of settlers near the West Bank settlement of Rimonim.

The IDF was bracing for further violence from settlers.

This picture taken on February 27, 2023, shows a view of torched cars and a building in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Authorities are also under pressure to arrest the perpetrators of the Huwara riot after the US said it expects Israel to prosecute the attackers and compensate the Palestinian victims for damages.

Israeli authorities said they arrested eight suspects following Sunday’s settler attack but that six of them had been released.

Violence has surged in the West Bank since the Sunday killing of the Yaniv brothers as they drove through Huwara.

An initial probe of the Sunday shooting suggested the gunman took advantage of a traffic jam on the Route 60 highway that traverses through the Palestinian town to carry out the attack while the car was stopped.

Brothers Hallel (left) and Yagel Yaniv, who were killed in a terror attack in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

Hours later, scores of settlers seeking revenge rampaged through Huwara, torching dozens of vehicles and a number of private homes.

A Palestinian man, 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash, was killed by gunfire during the rampage in circumstances that remain unclear. Aqtash’s relatives say he was shot by IDF soldiers, while a military official said Israeli troops were not involved in the shooting

The military bolstered the West Bank with an additional four infantry battalions following the attack and subsequent rioting in Huwara.

On Monday, Israeli-American Elan Ganeles, visiting Israel for a wedding, was shot to death while driving near Jericho.

Elan Ganeles, who was killed in a terror shooting in the West Bank, February 27, 2023. (Courtesy of Consulate General of Israel in New York)

During the attack, two gunmen arrived by car on the Route 90 highway, close to the Nevo military base, and opened fire at the vehicle, according to the IDF.

The terrorists then continued driving and opened fire at another car near the Beit Ha’arava Junction, before continuing and shooting at a third car nearby, the IDF said. The passengers in those vehicles were not injured.

The IDF and police said the gunmen set fire to their car as they fled the area toward Jericho. The IDF said it was conducting searches and setting up roadblocks in the area.

Haim Terbelsi said he was in one of the vehicles that was targeted north of the Dead Sea.

“I was sitting in back, sprawled out on the back seat. Suddenly I heard the sound of gunfire,” he told reporters at the scene. “I felt the bullets whistling past my body, I felt heat on my neck, I shouted, ‘gunshots!’”

His friend who was driving said, “I automatically hit the brakes and the terrorists’ vehicle went past us while firing and disappeared.”

Bruno Zaramti said he heard the sound of gunfire while driving in another car that was targeted.

“I thought the sound was gravel that flew up. At the same time, I saw a person come out of a car window and shoot at us, and I said, ‘They’re shooting, get down.’ They could have easily killed us,” Zaramti told Ynet.

One of his family members, Yoel Zaramti, said they stopped the car after the shooting and called police.

“I saw that everyone was okay, then I realized we weren’t in a good place on the road. I was scared they’d come back,” he said.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a shooting attack in the Jordan Valley, near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

In a separate attack on Monday night, an Israeli family came under fire while driving near the Palestinian town of Qusra, the military and medics said.

The car driving between Qusra and the settlement of Migdalim was hit with at least four bullets. The gunmen, who fired from a passing vehicle, fled the scene.

The Rescuers Without Borders Emergency service said the driver, a young woman, was very lightly hurt after being scratched in the hand, apparently by glass shrapnel. Her three young children in the car received psychological care.

In Jerusalem, attackers hurled firebombs at a Jewish family’s home in the Abu Tor neighborhood, causing no injuries.

In recent months, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted military posts and troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements and civilians on the roads.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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