Palestinian suspect killed in gunfight with IDF troops in West Bank
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Palestinian suspect killed in gunfight with IDF troops in West Bank

Soldiers on arrest raid exchange fire with alleged terrorist, resulting in his death, wound two others; M-16 rifle, submachine gun found in home

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

An alleged Palestinian terrorist was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah overnight Monday, the army said.

No Israeli servicemen were injured in the incident.

The troops, from the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police’s counterterrorism unit, surrounded the house where the suspect, Basel al-A’araj, was located. As they approached, he opened fire at them, the army said.

The soldiers fired back, killing the man.

Two more Palestinians were also shot and injured in clashes with Israeli troops after the gunfire exchange, police said.

Al-A’araj, 31, originally from Bethlehem, was allegedly part of a terrorist cell planning to carry out attacks on Israeli targets, Israeli officials said.

“Al-A’araj directed the cell and was responsible for purchasing the weaponry,” police said in a statement.

Inside his home, troops uncovered an M-16 rifle and an improvised Carlo-style submachine gun, the IDF said, referring to the suspect as a “terrorist.”

A Carlo-style submachine gun used by a Palestinian suspect in a gunbattle with Israel Police forces in Ramallah on March 6, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A Carlo-style submachine gun used by a Palestinian suspect in a gunbattle with Israel Police forces in Ramallah on March 6, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Carlo-style submachine guns are relatively affordable and common in the West Bank, as they can be hobbled together from water pipes and scrap metal. M-16 assault rifles, on the other hand, are several times more expensive and thus normally purchased by more organized groups with access to funds.

However, no terrorist organization immediately claimed al-A’araj as a member.

The Shin Bet security service said Monday morning that al-A’araj was “connected to a local terror cell,” but his relationship with a specific organization was “still being investigated.”

Al-A’araj was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in April of last year for planning attacks against Israelis and imprisoned for six months, prompting calls for his release from Palestinian activists.

Basel al-A'araj, who was killed in a gunfire exchange with Israeli troops on March 6, 2017, speaks in front of a group at a cemetery in Qabatiya, in the northern West Bank, on December 19, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Basel al-A’araj, who was killed in a gunfire exchange with Israeli troops on March 6, 2017, speaks in front of a group at a cemetery in Qabatiya, in the northern West Bank, on December 19, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Al-A’araj, a pharmacist by training and profession, was a prominent supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. Shortly after his death on Monday morning, videos of his anti-Israel speeches circulated on Palestinian social media. He also led tours around the West Bank in which he lectured on the history of the Palestinian armed conflict. A failed attempt by Israeli forces to arrest him at his Bethlehem home in November made headlines in the Palestinian news.

Following Monday’s gun battle at the entrance to al-A’araj’s home, clashes between the soldiers and residents also erupted nearby, with Palestinians throwing rocks at the force, police said.

The troops shot at the rioters, hitting two men in the lower body. They received treatment from Red Crescent medics, police said.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested a dozen Palestinian suspects, seven of them alleged members of the Hamas terrorist group.

Four suspected Hamas members were arrested in Bethlehem, two in Jenin and one in Qalqilya, the army said.

According to Palestinian media, two of the men arrested in Bethlehem were Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament Anwar Zabun and Khaled Tafesh, and a third was identified as Ghassan Hermas, a professor at al-Quds University in nearby Abu Dis.

All three have been arrested by Israel in the past.

In Bethlehem, Israeli troops also seized thousands of shekels that the army said came from terrorist organizations, “according to intelligence information.”

Four of the other five Palestinians arrested early Monday morning were suspected of taking part in violent protests or throwing rocks at Israeli troops and civilians, the army said.

The IDF did not specify the charges against the twelfth suspect.

In Kifl Haris, in the northern West Bank, Israeli troops escorted a group of religious Jews to a holy site in the village, believed to be the burial place of the biblical figure Joshua.

These visits can sometimes serve as catalysts for clashes between residents and Israeli troops, but the visit early Monday morning saw “no incidents out of the ordinary,” the army said.

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