Soldiers search for rabbi’s killers near Nablus, keep roadblocks in place
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Soldiers search for rabbi’s killers near Nablus, keep roadblocks in place

Army continues manhunt after Rabbi Raziel Shevach shot dead, screening cars in and out of West Bank villages; troops uncover illegal firearms in unrelated raids

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

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers search the area around the West Bank city of Nablus on January 11, 2018, as part of a manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack outside a nearby settlement. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers search the area around the West Bank city of Nablus on January 11, 2018, as part of a manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack outside a nearby settlement. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces raided areas near Nablus late Wednesday and early Thursday as a manhunt for terrorists behind a shooting attack on a West Bank highway that killed an Israeli man entered its third day.

Israeli security forces “conducted searches in the area in order to locate the terrorists, in parallel to the ongoing investigation and intelligence activity,” the army said Thursday morning.

Soldiers also maintained checkpoints at the entrances to the Palestinian city of Nablus and surrounding villages on Thursday.

“Forces continued their action in order to secure routes and to ensure the safety of the residents of the area,” the military said.

Israeli soldiers search the area around the West Bank city of Nablus on January 11, 2018, as part of a manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack outside a nearby settlement. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday night, shortly before 8 p.m., 35-year-old father of six Rabbi Raziel Shevach was driving in his car on the highway near his home in the Havat Gilad outpost when shots were fired at him from a passing car.

Shevach, a volunteer medic, was shot in the neck, but managed to call his wife and tell her to call an ambulance. Civilian and military medics rushed to the scene and tried to stop the bleeding as they took him to Kfar Saba’s Meir Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after life-saving efforts failed.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach with his family, in an undated photo (Courtesy of the family)

According to a Kann television report on Wednesday, the shooter used a mass-produced firearm — not a locally produced Carlo-style submachine gun — in the attack and appeared to be “well-trained.”

In a rare move, the Hamas terrorist group’s military wing quickly released a statement praising the attack on Tuesday night, calling it “heroic” and a sign of future attacks to come, though the organization did not take responsibility for the shooting.

“The attack outside Nablus is the first real response to show the leaders of the enemies and those that are behind them (the United States), that things that you fear — are coming,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israeli defense officials have repeatedly warned that the Gaza-based terrorist group is looking to carry out attacks in the West Bank.

Immediately following the attack, troops launched a manhunt, setting up roadblocks in the area around the Palestinian city of Nablus, which has a population of over 150,000, as they looked for the perpetrators.

Those checkpoints — what the army often refers to as a “breathing closure” — remained in place on Wednesday, causing significant traffic jams in the area.

On Thursday, the army announced that was continuing.

“Entrances and exits to and from the villages surrounding Nablus and the city of Nablus will be possible only after security checks,” the IDF said in a statement.

In apparently unrelated pre-dawn raids, troops also arrested 18 Palestinian suspects across the West Bank, mostly for rock throwing and other minor charges, the IDF said Thursday.

A Carlo-style submachine gun found by Israeli soldiers in the village of Umm al-Tut, south of Jenin, on January 11, 2018, as part of a manhunt after the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack outside a nearby settlement. (Israel Defense Forces)

“In addition, during searches of illegal weapons in the village of Umm al-Tut, south of Jenin, forces uncovered and seized two [locally produced Carlo-style submachine guns],” the army said.

Following both the shooting attack and Shevach’s funeral, several incidents of settler violence were reported in the West Bank.

Shevach’s funeral was held at the illegal Havat Gilad outpost on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly thereafter, dozens of Israelis, mostly young men, attacked the nearby Palestinian village of Farata, throwing stones at residents.

Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization, said clashes also broke out in the village of Jit, when a group of 20 settlers returning home from the funeral broke windows at the houses of several Palestinian residents.

On Tuesday night, Palestinian cars were pelted with rocks near the Yitzhar and Shiloh junctions south of Nablus, Channel 10 news reported.

Additional stone-throwing incidents were reported in the nearby villages of Asira al-Qibliya, Jalud and Burin. Four people were lightly wounded by the rocks, Palestinians said.

A Palestinian car stoned by settlers in the Nablus area following a shooting attack, January 9, 2018 (Palestinian Red Crescent)

In a tweet, MK Bezalel Smotrich, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said that “if they don’t want the grieving public to take the law into its own hands, then the system needs to do something” about Palestinian violence.

Havat Gilad is an illegal outpost established in 2002 in memory of Gilad Zar, security coordinator of the Shomron Regional Council, who was shot and killed a year prior in the northern West Bank

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot toured the area of the attack on Wednesday morning, meeting with with the head of the army’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa; the head of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Eran Niv; and the head of the Samaria Brigade, Col. Gilad Amit.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior officers from the army’s Central Command visit the area where a terror attack took place the night before on January 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The main mission at the moment is to locate the cell, to stop it and to prevent further terror events, and also to prepare for further activity in the area over the weekend,” Eisenkot said.

The head of the local settler council, Yossi Dagan, has harshly criticized the government for failing to install security cameras in the area.

“If they had been (installed), these vile murderers would have been caught. Raziel was killed near the community of Gilad Farms, where there are no security apparatuses, despite repeated requests from my regional council,” Dagan said in a statement.

“This terrible attack should be a tremendous warning sign,” he added.

In November, Dagan launched a hunger strike along with representatives of bereaved families calling on the government to immediately transfer funds to improve West Bank’s security infrastructure. The campaign ended with an agreement signed by Netanyahu that put into writing a pledge to earmark NIS 800 million ($228 million) of the 2018 budget for West Bank roads and infrastructure development.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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