JERUSALEM (AP) — At least one Palestinian gunman opened fire Thursday night at a car filled with Jewish seminary students next to a West Bank settlement outpost, killing an Israeli man and lightly wounding two other people, Israeli officials said.
Israeli leaders vowed to catch the attacker, and the military said it had dispatched additional troops to the area as part of the manhunt.
“The security forces will get their hands on the terrorists very soon and we’ll ensure that justice is served,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The shooting occurred near Homesh, a former settlement in the northern West Bank that was dismantled as part of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
In recent years, however, settlers have established an unauthorized outpost at the site. It is among dozens of outposts in the occupied West Bank that are considered illegal by Israel but which are often tolerated by the government.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, a military spokesman, said the passengers in the car came under fire after leaving a Jewish seminary in the outpost. He said some 10 bullets were fired at the vehicle.
Shefler said additional soldiers and special forces troops were rushed to the area to search for the attacker. He said it was not yet known if there was more than one gunman, and whether the attacker had acted alone or been dispatched by an organized militant group.
Israel's national rescue service, Magen David Adom, confirmed the death of a man in his 20s.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the attack.
Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the group, called it a “heroic operation against the soldiers of the occupation army and its murderous settlers.”
The shooting came amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence. Early this month, a Palestinian attacker stabbed and seriously wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew outside Jerusalem's Old City. And just over a week earlier, a Hamas militant opened fire in the Old City, killing an Israeli man.
In both cases, the attackers were killed by Israeli police. Both attackers appeared to have acted on their own. Shefler, the military spokesman, said Thursday's roadside ambush was “a different level of attack” but said it was not known whether the various attacks were linked.
At the same time, the northern West Bank has seen a sharp jump in settler violence against Palestinians in recent months.
In mid-November, Jewish settlers attacked a group of Palestinian farmers with pepper spray and clubs in the farmland near Homesh, wounding four people. There also has been a rise in settler vandalism of Palestinian property.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.
More than 700,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the two areas. The Palestinians, along with most of the international community, consider all settlements, including the outposts, to be illegal obstacles to peace.
Israel has annexed east Jerusalem in a step that is not internationally recognized and says the fate of the West Bank should be determined in peace talks.
The Palestinians seek both areas as parts of a future independent state.
Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
Josef Federman, The Associated Press