A group of Israeli settlers, mostly children, came under attack outside a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank on Thursday, prompting an armed parent escort to fire into the crowd of Palestinians throwing stones at them, killing one person, the army said.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the settlers were on a hike near the village of Qusra, south of Nablus, when a group of Palestinian residents started throwing rocks at them.
A settler, one of two armed escorts for the hike, took out his handgun and fired into the mob, killing one of the Palestinians, 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh, the army said.
One of the Israeli escorts suffered a light head wound. Another sustained an injury to one of his arms, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service. They were both taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
Initially, the IDF flatly denied the settlers’ claim that one of the escorts had his gun stolen during the clash. However, hours after the repudiation, an army spokesman confirmed that a gun was, in fact taken, but that security forces had managed to retrieve the rifle and return it to its owner.
Avraham Binyamin, a spokesperson for the Yitzhar settlement, said the hike was part of a “bar mitzvah trip for one of the children.”
IDF troops and police arrived at the scene shortly after the clash broke out and drove back both sides with riot dispersal equipment, including tear gas. Medics also treated the wounded.
Police opened an investigation into the incident.
During the clash, some of the hikers holed up in a cave south of Qusra. A video from the scene showed that their exit was blocked by a group of Palestinians. They were later rescued by Israeli security forces.
One of the children said a Palestinian man discharged pepper spray into the cave while they were inside it.
The child, who gave an on-camera statement that was released by the Samaria Regional Council, said that a second group of Palestinians arrived at the entrance of the cave and helped drive back the initial group that was blocking their exit, until the army arrived.
One of the parents escorting the group said they opened fire at Odeh out of self-defense. “Our lives were in danger, as [the Palestinians] threw rocks and boulders at us,” he said.
The Yesh Din human rights organization said the hikers came from the nearby illegal Esh Kodesh outpost and entered Palestinian farmland outside Qusra.
According to human rights activists, the slain Palestinian was working in his field when he was shot, and the mob only arrived at the scene later.
The Samaria Regional Council said in a statement that there were approximately 100 Palestinians who attacked the group of children and parents.
It was not immediately clear if the Israelis coordinated their hike with the military, as is generally required in the West Bank.
According to Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, Israeli soldiers took Odeh’s body into custody as it was being taken to a hospital in the city of Nablus.
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.