RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Two Israeli soldiers were wounded on Saturday, the military said, in a drive-by shooting claimed by a Palestinian armed group in the flashpoint town of Huwara in the occupied West Bank.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) said in a statement that it had carried out the shooting. The military said it was in pursuit of the suspect.
It was the third shooting reported around Huwara within a month, raising fears of escalation during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that partly coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover, a time when violence has touched off in the past.
Allaying some concern, the first Friday Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – a tinder-box holy site in Jerusalem, ended peacefully.
But on Saturday night, Israeli police said they had entered the shrine to remove some worshippers who they said were planning to “violate public order” and disrupt early morning prayers and visits by Israelis and tourists.
There was no immediate response from Palestinian or Muslim officials who have in the past condemned Israeli forces entering the shrine.
On Sunday Israeli and Palestinian officials made commitments at a meeting in Egypt to de-escalate violence during Ramadan. The same day, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on an Israeli couple in their car in Huwara, wounding the man.
A gunman from the Hamas militant group killed two settlers in a car in the same town during the first round of Israeli-Palestinian de-escalation talks last month in Aqaba.
Settlers responded to that attack by setting fire to Palestinians’ homes and cars, killing at least one Palestinian.
Israeli media said dozens of settlers held a protest at the entrance of Huwara following Saturday’s shooting and that Israeli forces prevented them from entering the town.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose recent comments about the Palestinians, and earlier about Huwara, have drawn widespread criticism, said Israel must not let attacks from the town become routine.
“When we are under fire we must take significant action,” he said, without elaborating.
Over the past year, Israeli forces have made thousands of arrests in the West Bank and killed more than 200 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians, while more than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Giles Elgood and Daniel Wallis)