The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it was probing the decision-making of an officer to attempt to flank and arrest two Palestinian gunmen early Wednesday morning, ahead of a deadly gun battle in which he was killed.
The officer, Maj. Bar Falah, 30, the deputy commander of the elite Nahal reconnaissance unit, was killed in the clash at the West Bank security barrier near the Palestinian village of Jalamah. Falah was laid to rest in Netanya Wednesday evening, at a funeral attended by thousands of mourners.
According to the IDF’s initial probe of the incident, the two gunmen were identified at around 11:40 p.m. on Tuesday night by soldiers operating surveillance cameras, some 15-20 meters from a military post in the so-called seam zone between the West Bank and Israel proper.
Two soldiers stationed in the area began an arrest procedure, which included shouting toward the suspects, firing into the air and hurling a stun grenade at them.
However, the troops did not know that the pair were armed, according to the initial probe.
The two Palestinians then appeared to flee the area. Meanwhile, the commander of the IDF’s Menashe Brigade, Col. Arik Moyal, along with Falah and his soldiers were dispatched to the scene.
At around 1:20 a.m the pair were identified again, and Falah’s team began to crawl behind them, seeking to apprehend them.
At 2:15 a.m. the two gunmen opened fire at the troops who were just several meters away. Falah was hit and critically hurt, but still managed to fire several shots back before he died, according to the probe.
The two gunmen, one of whom was a member of Palestinian Authority security services, were killed in the subsequent firefight. The pair were armed with a Carlo makeshift submachine gun and another makeshift semiautomatic weapon, according to the IDF.
The gunmen were named by Palestinian media as Ahmed Abed and Abdul Rahman Abed, from the village of Kafr Dan near Jenin. Ahmed was an officer in the PA security services.
The military suspects the two were planning to ambush troops stationed at the nearby post, and waited after first being detected in order to find a more opportune moment for an attack.
An armed drone was scrambled to the scene after they were first identified, but was not used as the military did not immediately identify that the two suspects were armed, according to military officials.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz meanwhile ordered the closure of the Jalamah and Salem checkpoints, as well as halting the entry permits to Israel for residents of Kafr Dan, the hometown of the two Palestinian gunmen, all until further notice.
“We will continue to act intensely wherever necessary, whenever necessary to prevent terrorism,” Gantz said while touring the scene in the northern West Bank.
“And I repeat, where the PA will not exercise sovereignty, we will take care of our security,” Gantz added, according to remarks provided by his office.
The fatal incident occurred near the scene of another shooting attack less than 24 hours earlier. On Tuesday morning, a Defense Ministry engineering vehicle working along the security barrier in the same area came under fire. There were no injuries, but the vehicle was damaged.
Tensions have spiked in the region in recent weeks with Israeli forces ratcheting up arrest raids and other counter-terror efforts which Palestinians say have inflamed anger.
A senior Israeli official told reporters accompanying Prime Minister Yair Lapid to Germany on Monday that Israel was “toughening up IDF operations in places like Jenin and Nablus.”
In June, the Defense Ministry began to upgrade a section of the barrier in the northern West Bank after a series of deadly terror attacks were committed by Palestinians who illegally entered Israel earlier in the year.
Israeli troops have repeatedly come under gunfire during nightly raids in the West Bank. The military launched the operation after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
Jalamah is located adjacent to the security barrier just north of Jenin, where a number of the attacks earlier in the year originated and where the IDF has concentrated much of its anti-terror campaign.
More than 2,000 suspects have been detained since the beginning of the year, according to the Shin Bet security agency.
In raids across the West Bank during the predawn hours of Wednesday, troops arrested seven wanted Palestinians and seized several weapons, with violent incidents in some areas, the IDF said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.