RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israeli forces on Friday arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank as the army intensified a crackdown in response to a pair of deadly shootings believed to have been carried out by Hamas militants.
In a fresh wave of violence, an Israeli soldier was severely wounded by a Palestinian assailant who attacked him with a rock, while Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian demonstrators outside Ramallah, the military said.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Jewish settlers beat up a Palestinian bus driver, the man’s family said, while Palestinian Authority forces violently broke up a demonstration by supporters of the rival Hamas movement.
Friday’s unrest came a day after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a West Bank bus stop, killing two soldiers before speeding away in a vehicle. Israel responded by setting up checkpoints, closing roads and beefing up security in a broad manhunt for the assailant. Earlier in the week, another Palestinian gunman carried out a similar drive-by shooting outside a nearby settlement, wounding seven people, including a pregnant woman whose baby later died after being delivered prematurely.
A Hamas official said some 100 members of the group, including lawmakers and other senior figures, were arrested this week, including 70 arrested overnight and throughout the day on Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing arrest by Israel. The Israeli military confirmed the overnight arrests.
As Israel was burying the soldiers killed in Thursday’s shooting, another soldier was severely wounded near a West Bank settlement after a Palestinian struck him in the head with a rock, knocking him unconscious, the military said. The army said it appeared the soldier was also stabbed. It said Israeli forces were searching for the suspect.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, a group of Israelis beat up a Palestinian bus driver, Nidal Sake, near a West Bank settlement late Thursday, Israeli police said.
Thaer Sake, the bus driver’s brother, said that a group of Jewish teenagers blocked the bus with their car and forced themselves on board, striking the driver several times before fleeing, according to his brother’s account. He said his Nidal remained hospitalized Friday with severe bruises and a broken eye socket. Police said they were investigating and trying to find the perpetrators.
On Friday afternoon, street clashes erupted between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces outside Ramallah, with protesters slinging rocks and Israeli soldiers responding with tear gas and stun grenades to break up the crowd. The Palestinian Healthy Ministry said two protesters were wounded by bullets, one critically.
The tensions also spilled over into internal Palestinian fighting in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron, where some 50 activists waving Hamas flags in celebration of the militant group’s 31st anniversary confronted Palestinian Authority forces and blocked traffic following Muslim noon prayers. An Associated Press cameraman saw Palestinian police harshly beat Hamas activists with clubs, injuring five and arresting 15.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and the Islamic Hamas are fierce rivals. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’ forces in 2007 after winning legislative elections the previous year, and attempts to reconcile have repeatedly failed.
Friday’s unrest capped a deadly week that claimed seven lives, including the Israeli newborn, a 60-year-old Palestinian businessman and three Palestinian assailants, two of them members of the Islamic militant Hamas group.
The latest shootings prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to boost troop levels in the West Bank, order detentions of Hamas activists and call for demolishing the homes of assailants within 48 hours.
Amid the tense manhunt, Israeli forces encircled Ramallah, the Palestinians’ typically quiet center of government and commerce. To prevent what it called “copycat attacks,” the army set up checkpoints, searched cars and blocked roads in an unusual show of force that reflected the severity with which Israel views the shootings.
“Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
Abbas, meanwhile, has accused Israel of creating a “climate” of violence by conducting frequent military raids in Palestinian cities. He also accuses Israel of incitement against him.
Israeli officials accuse Hamas of being behind the recent attacks. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, praised Thursday’s shooting and confirmed that two people killed by Israel this week were members of its military wing. But it has stopped short of claiming responsibility for their attacks.
The latest string of West Bank violence comes amid years-long diplomatic paralysis, diminishing hopes for peace and escalating Palestinian frustration with the policies of President Donald Trump, who Palestinians accuse of unfair bias toward Israel.
Peace talks have stalled throughout Netanyahu’s decade-long tenure, while Israeli settlements in the West Bank have expanded, incensing Palestinians. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip for their hoped-for independent state.
DeBre reported from Jerusalem.
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