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Driver in car-ramming incident gives himself up

Hamam Mesalmeh turns up at district coordinating office; military sources say ‘attack’ may have been accident

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers near the Gush Etzion Junction, south of Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers near the Gush Etzion Junction, south of Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The prime suspect in Wednesday night’s car-ramming attack that injured three soldiers turned himself in to security forces on Thursday after members of his family — including his father — were arrested earlier, Israel Radio reported.

A later radio report quoted military sources saying the incident may have been an accident and not, as previously suspected, a terror attack, but that all avenues were being examined.

Hamam Mesalmeh arrived at the Etzion District Coordinating Office around midday and was detained for questioning over the incident. The DCO coordinates activities between Israeli and Palestinian security forces.

Earlier the IDF arrested his father and brother, according to Palestinian media reports.

Israel Radio cited the Palestinian news agency Safa, which reported Thursday that security forces entered the village of Beit Awa, near Hebron, and told the Mesalmeh family that their son was the main suspect in the search for the attacker. Several additional members of the family may have been detained, according to the reports.

According to the Ma’an News Agency security forces also arrested 15 Palestinians in raid across the West Bank overnight Wednesday.

Security forces also arrested several suspected accessories to the attack in the al-Aroub refugee camp south of Jerusalem.

Palestinians thew rocks at Israeli cars Thursday as they passed the spot where the attack happened. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

On Wednesday night a Palestinian vehicle hit the soldiers, who were standing by the side of Route 60 near al-Aroub. The vehicle was identified as a large white commercial truck, and a van matching the description was later found by IDF troops.

In a graphic video posted online which appeared to show the incident, the three soldiers are clearly visible on the side of the road as traffic passed. The white van approached from the left-hand side and, without slowing, plowed into the soldiers and drove off.

A full-scale manhunt was conducted for Hamam Mesalmeh, including police and IDF roadblocks in the area.

Israeli soldiers are evacuated at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem after being run over by a Palestinian driver rnear the West Bank village of Al Aroub close to the Gush Etzion junction, outside of Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers are evacuated at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem after being run over by a Palestinian driver rnear the West Bank village of Al Aroub close to the Gush Etzion junction, outside of Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The IDF is conducting a widespread search in the region to locate the vehicle and its driver,” the army said in a statement.

Shortly after the attack, Hamas lauded the apparent attack on the soldiers.

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The incident came hours after an East Jerusalem man drove his van into a group of pedestrians in the capital, killing a Border Police officer and injuring 11 other people, one of them critically.

The fatality, Jedan Assad, 38, from the Druze village of Beit Jann, will be laid to rest Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. local time.

Jedan Assad (Channel 2 screenshot)
Jedan Assad (Channel 2 screenshot)

Assad was a father to a three-year-old boy; his wife is five months pregnant.

Israel Radio reported that a new online social media campaign calls for more terror attacks using vehicles as weapons. The campaign is reportedly called “Daas,” the Arabic word for “run over,” which is also a play on words for the Arabic acronym “Daesh” for the terror group the Islamic State.

The perpetrator of the Jerusalem attack, 48-year-old Ibrahim al-Akary from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, a father of five, was buried late Wednesday night in the Old City.

Six people remain hospitalized from that attack; one in critical condition, three with serious injuries and two with moderate-to-light injuries.

One of the victims, a man on his 20s, was unknown to officials for hours, as he did not have any form of identification on him. Family members finally contacted authorities, Israel Radio reported, and his identity was established. The information has not been released to the press.

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