Troops raid West Bank hometown of terrorist in deadly checkpoint attack

Military boosts forces in area to prevent potential additional terror assaults; clashes reported near Bethlehem

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli security and rescue forces at the scene of a terror shooting attack at a checkpoint near Ma'ale Adumim in the West Bank, February 22, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Israeli security and rescue forces at the scene of a terror shooting attack at a checkpoint near Ma'ale Adumim in the West Bank, February 22, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israeli troops raided the hometown of a Palestinian involved in a deadly terror attack outside Jerusalem Thursday and clashed with rioters near Bethlehem, according to authorities and local accounts.

One person was killed and 11 were injured Thursday morning when three Palestinian attackers opened fire with automatic weapons at Israelis waiting in traffic while heading toward Jerusalem on the Route 1 highway near the az-Za’ayyem checkpoint, close to the West Bank town of the same name.

The Israel Defense Forces said troops were operating in Za’atara, where the three set out from before carrying out the attack, to detain and question suspects.

The town, east of Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, was home to Ahmed Al-Wahsh, 31, who is accused of carrying out the attack along with brothers Muhammad Zawahra, 26, and Kathem Zawahra, 31, both residents of the nearby village of Ta’amra.

The military also said it had bolstered forces in the West Bank to prevent potential additional attacks.

Palestinian accounts and videos published online showed clashes between troops and Palestinians in other areas near Bethlehem.

According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, a Palestinian was shot in an altercation with Israeli troops in the village of al-Dawha, south of Bethlehem, and was taken to hospital for treatment.

According to the report, Israeli troops also operated in the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp, and raided a car rental company in the village.

Police at the scene of a terror shooting attack outside of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank, February 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean); Inset: Matan Elmaliah, 26, from Ma’ale Adumim, who was killed in the attack. (X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Two of the gunmen in Thursday morning’s attack were shot dead by security forces and armed civilians at the scene. The third gunman initially fled, before being “neutralized” a short while later following police searches in the area, law enforcement officials said. His condition was not immediately known.

Images shared by police showed that the trio were armed with assault rifles, makeshift submachine guns and a grenade. Eyewitnesses said they ran along the lines of cars waiting in the traffic jam, firing into the vehicles caught in traffic.

Police later released footage from the attack, showing an officer shooting one of the gunmen dead. The clip, from a dashcam, showed the officer chasing after one of the terrorists and opening fire.

A young man, later identified as Matan Elmaliah, 26, of Ma’aleh Adumim, was killed in the shooting.

A 23-year-old pregnant woman was listed in serious condition, and four others were in moderate condition, including a woman in her 30s, a man aged 23, a man aged 51, and a woman aged 52, medical officials said.

Another five people were treated for minor injuries and acute anxiety, it added. All the victims were taken to hospital in Jerusalem.

The city’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center later released a statement saying the woman who was seriously injured in the attack was in stable condition after surgery. Two of the victims were listed in moderate condition following surgeries, and two more were being treated for light injuries, the hospital said, without elaborating.

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said it received eight of the wounded, three of whom were hospitalized, including the reservist soldier, Hananya Ben Shimon, 23, who shot dead one of the attackers. Ben Shimon, who recently returned from the war in the Gaza Strip, was moderately injured in the exchange of fire.

The hospital said two more of the wounded, brothers aged 22 and 29, were being treated for light injuries, and the rest were released.

Reservist soldier Hananya Ben Shimon, 23, shot dead one of the gunmen in the deadly terror shooting attack outside of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank on February 22, 2024. Ben Shimon, who recently returned from the war in Gaza, was moderately injured in the attack and was hospitalized at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. (Hadassah Medical Center Spokesperson’s Office)

The terror attack came amid Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas issued a statement praising the attack and called the deadly shooting “a natural response” to the war in Gaza, Arabic-language media outlets reported.

Tensions in Israel and the West Bank have been high since October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel in a Hamas-led attack, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and seizing 253 hostages.

Israel responded with an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation with the goal of destroying Hamas and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza, and securing the release of the hostages.

The IDF has continued to operate throughout the West Bank and police have been on high alert in Israel, in light of concerns about a possible escalation of violence.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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