IDF beefs up troops in West Bank, steps up manhunt, after 2 soldiers killed
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IDF beefs up troops in West Bank, steps up manhunt, after 2 soldiers killed

Military says additional battalions will assist in both efforts to find terrorists behind deadly shooting attack and protect settlements

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Israeli military deployed additional infantry battalions to the West Bank on Thursday, following a spate of terror attacks in the area, including a shooting earlier in the day in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and two other people were severely injured.

The Israel Defense Forces also established a dedicated command center — made up of officers and soldiers from the Kfir Infantry Brigade, which specializes in counter-terrorism — to lead the effort to find the perpetrator of the shooting attack at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost in the central West Bank.

The army refused to specify the number of additional battalions it was deploying in the West Bank. An IDF spokesperson said the reinforcements would assist in the search for the shooter and any accomplices, as well as provide additional protection to settlements and the area’s roadways.

The past week has seen a significant increase in the level of violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Before dawn on Thursday morning, a Palestinian man stabbed two border guards in the Old City of Jerusalem, lightly injuring them, before he was shot dead by the officers.

On Thursday afternoon, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at the bus stop near Givat Assaf, killing two soldiers, critically injuring a third and seriously wounding a civilian woman, before fleeing the scene.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two of the victims, soldiers in their early 20s, were declared dead at the scene.

The injured soldier, 21, was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, according to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

The female civilian was seriously injured with a gunshot wound to the pelvis and taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s trauma unit in Jerusalem for treatment, the hospital said.

The military censor initially prevented publication of the fact that three of the victims were soldiers until their families could be notified.

A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen (L) and Staff. Sgt Yoval Mor Yosef of the Israel Defense Forces’ Kfir Brigade. The two were killed on December 13, 2018, in a terrorist shooting attack outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)

The servicemen were guarding the bus stop when the shooting occurred.

Hours later, the army said a Palestinian man attempted to ram his car into a group of soldiers who were taking part in the effort to find the gunman outside the town of el-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah. The troops opened fire, killing the man, later identified by Palestinian officials as Hamdan al-Ardah. One soldier was lightly injured. The Palestinian man’s family denied the army’s claims, saying it was not an attack, but rather an accident.

On Thursday evening, the military initially claimed that another Palestinian man had apparently attempted to ram his car into a group of soldiers near the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, also near Ramallah, but later said it was a traffic accident.

Thursday’s shooting attack took place on Route 60 near Givat Assaf, some two kilometers (1.25 miles) from Ofra, where on Sunday a number of terrorists driving in a white car opened fire at a group of people standing at the settlement’s bus stop, hitting seven of them, including a seven-months pregnant woman who was critically injured and whose baby later died as a result of the attack.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

It was not immediately clear if the two attacks were carried out by the same group — according to the army, only some of the perpetrators of Sunday’s shooting have been apprehended — or if it was a “copycat” attack, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

The Hamas terror group praised Thursday’s attack, but did not claim responsibility for it.

Since the shooting attack outside Givat Assaf, the army has been leading a massive search effort to find the terrorist responsible.

According to Palestinian media, the vehicle used in the attack was abandoned nearby, and the two suspects — the driver and the shooter — continued on foot. The IDF said they fled in the direction of Ramallah.

The IDF said it closed off the entrances to the nearby city of Ramallah and set up roadblocks throughout the area in an effort to locate the perpetrators. The army said it was not yet sure how many people were involved in the attack.

Palestinian media also reported that Israeli troops launched raids in the Ramallah suburb of el-Bireh.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The West Bank has seen an increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.

The military blamed the increase in attacks both on terror groups’ ongoing efforts, the “copycat” phenomenon and a number of significant dates coming up this week, notably the anniversary of Hamas’s founding.

On Wednesday night, the Israeli military arrested a number of suspects who were believed to have carried out Sunday night’s shooting attack and shot dead a third, who security officials said tried to attack Israeli troops during an escape attempt. On Thursday, the army said the search for additional perpetrators was ongoing.

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