An Israeli drone struck a car carrying three Palestinian gunmen who had just opened fire at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank on Wednesday night, the military and Shin Bet security agency said.
The strike, which the IDF said killed all three, marked the first targeted killings in the West Bank since 2006, according to the Israel Defense Forces, and came after attack helicopters were used in a military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin earlier this week, also for the first time in some two decades.
The IDF and Shin Bet said in a joint statement that the gunmen had opened fire at Jalamah Checkpoint, north of Jenin. Following the shooting attack on the checkpoint, a drone carried out a strike on their vehicle.
The cell was also responsible for a number of recent shooting attacks in the area, the IDF and Shin Bet added, including toward towns in northern Israel, over the West Bank security barrier.
IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that three Palestinians were killed in the strike carried out by an Elbit Hermes 450 drone, operated by the Artillery Corps.
The gunmen were named as Suhaib al-Ghoul, 27, Muhammad Awais, 28, and Ashraf a-Saadi, 17.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said al-Ghoul was a commander in a local wing — known as the Jenin Battalion — and a-Saadi was a fighter.
Awais was identified as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a coalition of armed groups loosely affiliated with the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party.
Their bodies were seized by Israeli security forces, and three assault rifles were also found in their car.
Hagari didn’t label the incident a targeted killing, but said it was about “removing a threat.”
“We identified a vehicle shooting at the checkpoint and removed the threat,” he said.
Surveillance camera footage shows the IDF drone strike on the car carrying three Palestinian gunmen near Jenin last night. pic.twitter.com/jvzkelzxaS
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) June 22, 2023
مصادر محلية: أنباء أولية عن قيام طائرات الاحتلال بدون طيار بقصف سيارة مدنية قرب قرية مقبيلة شمال شرق جنين. pic.twitter.com/q3O7gzg7pr
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) June 21, 2023
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the drone strike.
“I praise the security forces who a short time ago carried out a targeted elimination of a terrorist squad that fired toward Israeli territory, and had previously carried out several shooting attacks,” Gallant said on Twitter.
“We will take an offensive and proactive approach to combat terrorism, we will use all the means at our disposal and we will exact the heaviest price from every terrorist or terrorist emissary,” he added.
Gallant had to personally authorize the drone strike, as it represents a marked escalation in Israel’s efforts to combat terror in the region.
Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted troops carrying out arrest raids, military posts, Israeli settlements and civilians on roads, especially in the northern West Bank.
The Shin Bet has recorded 147 “significant” terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank this year, including 120 shootings, a spokesperson told The Times of Israel earlier on Wednesday.
The Shin Bet said security forces have foiled 375 significant attacks so far this year, including some 300 planned shootings. “Significant attacks” is a term that encompasses shootings, bombings, car rammings and kidnappings.
In 2022, Israeli security officials recorded nearly 300 shooting attacks, the vast majority in the West Bank, and said the military and Shin Bet foiled around 500 planned significant attacks.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.
Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including 17-year-old Nachman Mordoff, 17-year-old Elisha Anteman, 21-year-old Harel Masood and 64-year-old Ofer Fayerman, shot dead by Hamas-affiliated gunmen on Tuesday near the settlement of Eli.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 132 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.