2 killings shatter relative calm between Israelis, Palestinians

Israeli border police fire tear gas at Palestinian villagers during clashes with Jewish settlers near the West Bank city of Nablus.
(Alaa Badarneh / EPA)

JERUSALEM -- Tensions rose Tuesday between Israelis and Palestinians after two separate killings -- one by each side -- shattered what had been a period of relative calm in recent months.

At a northern West Bank hitchhiking stop, an Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a Palestinian man who stole the settler’s gun and attacked nearby soldiers before being arrested, officials said. It was the first such killing of an Israeli by a Palestinian in the West Bank in 18 months.

Separately, the government said that Israel Defense Forces killed a Gaza Strip-based militant accused of participating in rocket attacks, including one earlier this month that struck the Israeli resort city of Eilat from the Sinai Peninsula.

The Israeli airstrike was the first targeted killing of a Gaza militant since a November cease-fire ended eight days of clashes between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. Under that Egyptian-brokered truce, Hamas agreed to halt all rocket fire from Gaza, and Israel agreed to stop targeted assassinations.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the Gaza strike.

“We will not accept the sporadic firing of rockets from either Gaza Strip or Sinai,’’ he said. “We will act, and are acting, in order to defend Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu also expressed condolences to the family of Evyatar Borovsky, 31, the father of five who was killed at the hitchhiking post near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israeli officials said the attacker approached Borovsky, who lives in the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife concealed in a bag. Borovsky died at the scene, they said.

The killer was identified by Palestinians as Salam Zaghal, 24, from the village of Tulkarem. Zaghal was released from prison last month after serving four years on a rock-throwing charge, Palestinian officials said.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, took responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including two who recently died while in custody.

The group called the killing a “gift” to Palestinian prisoners and promised more operations in the future.

Abbas, who has repeatedly condemned the use of violence and vowed to prevent another uprising as long as he is in power, did not immediately comment on the attack.

Israeli media speculated that the attack might have been an attempt by Zaghal to restore his family’s honor. According to the Israeli news site Ynet, Zaghal’s brother is in a Palestinian jail on a charge of collaborating with Israel.

The killing was the first of its kind since September 2011. Last year was the first year in recent memory during which an Israeli was not killed in the West Bank, a fact that was praised as a sign of progress by President Obama during his March visit to Israel and the West Bank.

At the same time however, vandalism and violence has increased. Rock-throwing incidents by Palestinian youths have surged in recent months, as have vandalism attacks by settlers against Palestinians’ cars and mosques.

Following Borovsky’s killing, a small group of settlers began hurling rocks at Palestinian cars and buses, injuring at least one student, officials said. Palestinians also reported damage to one mosque and arson attacks against Palestinian farmland around Nablus.

Israeli settler leaders called on the government to reinstall military checkpoints to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank.

In Gaza, Israel said it killed Haitham Ziad Ibrahim Mishal, 24, a member of an extremist group in Gaza who had specialized in manufacturing and trading rockets and explosive devices. Israel said he was behind the April 17 rocket attack against Eilat.

Palestinian officials say Mishal was recently released from prison in Gaza, where he was being held by Hamas.

Witnesses said he was killed and another man was injured as they rode on a motorcycle.

Though Hamas has stopped firing rockets at Israel since November, other groups recently resumed sporadic attacks. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire originating in Gaza.

“We consider the latest airstrike and the killing of a Palestinian fighter this morning as a serious violation of the cease-fire,” Hamas spokesman Ihab Ghussain said.


Gaza cease-fire unraveling amid renewed air attacks

Syria: Huge new bombing in Damascus kills at least 13

Dutch get a new monarch: Willem-Alexander succeeds Beatrix

Times special correspondents Maher Abukhater in Ramallah and Rushdi Abualouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.