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Palestinian suspect in West Bank shooting attack said to have US citizenship

Residents of Muntasir Shalabi’s hometown claim he spent years in US, recently returned from trip there and was reportedly in financial straits due to gambling debts

IDF soldiers searching in the village of Aqraba, near the West Bank city of Nablus for a gunman who injured three Israeli teenagers, May 4, 2021. (Flash90)
IDF soldiers searching in the village of Aqraba, near the West Bank city of Nablus for a gunman who injured three Israeli teenagers, May 4, 2021. (Flash90)

Muntasir Shalabi, identified in Palestinian media as the main suspect in a drive-by shooting attack this week that wounded three Israelis, has United States citizenship, residents of his West Bank hometown told the Haaretz daily on Tuesday.

Shalabi, 47, has been on the run since the Sunday shooting at the Tapuah Junction, which seriously wounded two Israeli teenagers and lightly injured a third. Security forces launched a major manhunt to find him.

According to residents of Turmus Ayya, Shalabi recently returned from a trip to the US and was in financial straits after losing money gambling. He had previously spent several years in the US, they said.

Several of Shalabi’s relatives were arrested overnight Tuesday, including his wife and a number of her family members in Turmas Ayya and in the nearby village of Aqraba, where the car used in the terror attack was found.

Shalabi’s 17-year-old son was arrested earlier in the week.

Detained family members are not cooperating with investigators and are denying he was involved in the attack, according to Haaretz.

Shalabi’s wife was released Wednesday, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israeli soldiers and police at the scene of shooting attack in Tapuah Junction, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 2, 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Early Tuesday, security forces also arrested a number of other people in Aqraba. The detainees were suspected of aiding the gunman, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The IDF said security forces had seized the car used in the attack, a gray Hundai that was found Monday in the village of Aqraba.  Photos of the car began circulating on Palestinian social media showing that it was hit by at least two bullets, one of which shattered the back windshield and the other hit the trunk door. That matched the claims by soldiers at the scene, who said they returned fire at the vehicle after the driver shot the three Israeli teenagers.

Shortly after the vehicle was spotted outside Aqraba, clashes broke out between IDF soldiers who arrived at the scene and Palestinian locals, who managed to set the vehicle alight before it was seized by the troops.

According to Beilinson Hospital, where the three injured Israelis were taken, one of the victims, Yehuda Guetta, 19, from Jerusalem, remained in critical condition with a head wound as of Tuesday morning, and doctors feared for his life.

Benaya Peretz, 19, from Beit She’an, who was shot in the back, remained in very serious condition. The third victim, Amichai Hala from Safed, also 19, was released from the hospital to recover from his wounds at home.

The scene of a shooting attack at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, May 2, 2021 (Samaria Regional Council)

The attack came amid heightened tensions in the West Bank after the Palestinian Authority announced it was indefinitely delaying elections planned for later this month, blaming the decision on ostensible Israeli refusal to allow PA voting in East Jerusalem.

The IDF also bolstered its forces in the West Bank for the month of Ramadan, a period that regularly sees an uptick in violence.

Sunday’s shooting was followed by several apparent retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers, including the storming of a Jaloud village in the predawn hours of Monday morning, where Israelis from the nearby Shiloh settlement threw rocks and stun grenades and started fires.

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