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Hebron remains flashpoint as two Israelis are killed in West Bank

A Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli father and son driving through the southern West Bank on Friday, continuing a two-month wave of violence.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the two victims were driving with their family south of their home in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement adjacent to the city of the Hebron.

Friday’s attack highlighted the role of Hebron, the only city in the West Bank where Israelis live alongside Palestinians, as a flashpoint in the current bloodshed.

With 1,000 Israelis living in highly fortified enclaves near a towering stone shrine that both Jews and Muslims revere as the burial place of the biblical patriarch Abraham, the city has long been a powder keg. Palestinians massacred 67 Jewish residents in 1929. In 1994, Israeli-American Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

On Thursday, Israeli troops stormed Hebron’s Al-Ahli hospital, killing a Palestinian during an early morning raid to arrest his cousin. Then came Friday’s killings.

Since mid-September, Palestinians have killed 14 Israelis in a series of stabbings, shootings and vehicular attacks that began in Jerusalem but spread to the West Bank. Israeli fire has killed at least 79 Palestinians, including 50 said by Israel to be attackers. Of those, at least 38 have been from Hebron.

Palestinians and Jews in this city see no end to the bloodshed.

“Their goal is to destroy Israel,” said Tzipi Schlissel, who along with her 11 children are among the 75 Israeli families who live in Hebron. Schlissel moved into a heavily guarded compound 13 years ago after Palestinians butchered her father in his home in Hebron.

For the Palestinians, the Israeli security crackdown is the harshest in a decade. “I feel more violence is coming. I feel less hope,” said Issa Amro, director of the local movement Youth Against Settlements.

To cope with the recent unrest, the Israeli military has deployed hundreds of additional troops to the city. In early November, pairs of soldiers were stationed every 30 feet around Jewish areas, weighed down by bulletproof vests and ammunition.

Amro said members of 50 Palestinian families living alongside Israelis in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood had to register with the Israeli army to obtain permission to enter the neighborhood. Amro said shopkeepers and students living outside the area were not allowed to enter to shop or attend school.

“I feel Hebron is disappearing and Palestinian identity is disappearing because of settlers and soldiers’ violence,” Amro said.

Every incident merely worsens the feelings of distrust.

On Thursday, doctors at the Al-Ahli hospital left a puddle of blood on the floor of Room 207 for at least 10 hours after Israeli troops shot and killed Abdallah Shalaldeh, 27, as they were trying to arrest his cousin, Azzam Shalaldeh, who Israel says stabbed an Israeli in a West Bank settlement in October and had been smuggled into the hospital.

The military said Abdallah Shalaldeh attacked the troops; the hospital’s director, Jihad Shawar, said Shalaldeh was coming out of a bathroom when he was hit by five bullets.

“The hospital must be the safest place for all,” said Shawar. If the Israeli police want to arrest someone, “no one can say no,” he said. “But to kill another one – this is I think double crime.”

Hospital video footage from early Thursday captured about 20 undercover Israelis dressed as Palestinians storming the third floor of Al-Ahli. Shawar said his staff believed they were companions for another Israeli acting as a pregnant woman going into labor.

The Israeli Shin Bet security agency said in a statement that Azzam Shalaldeh came from a family of operatives for the Islamist group Hamas. The statement said he’d been smuggled into Al-Ahli after he attacked the Israeli.

“The security establishment will not allow for safe refuge for terror operatives, anywhere,” the statement said.

Thousands of Palestinians attended Abdallah Shalaldeh’s funeral Thursday in his village of Sair, outside Hebron. Mohammad Mohtasseb and his family watched the burial live from their Hebron living room on Palestinian Al-Quds TV.

“There is no difference between him and my son,” said Mohtasseb, 50.

Mohtasseb said he wished he could pay the same rites to his son, Mahdi, 23. Israeli forces shot him Oct. 29 in Hebron following what they say was an attempted stabbing. Amateur video footage showed Israeli troops shooting Mohtasseb from a distance of 15 feet as he lay on the ground.   

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told the AP that Mohtasseb tried to get up and still could have posed a danger to troops.

In a sign of the increased Israeli security presence in Hebron, Mahdi’s brother was detained en route to an interview Thursday by Israeli police wielding automatic weapons as they fined him for driving an unregistered vehicle.

Hebron activist Amro said Israel is holding the bodies of 12 locals killed in the last eight weeks. Israel says the burial rites incite more Palestinians to violence.

On Friday, 22-year-old Mahmoud Shalaldeh died of wounds he sustained while clashing with Israeli forces during his cousin Abdallah’s funeral the day before.

Hebron Mayor Daoud Zaatari said his city council is urging the Palestinian Authority and the international community for help in recovering the bodies. He said he appealed to the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, an international monitoring force, to boost its operations in light of recent violence.

In Hebron’s Palestinian downtown, businessmen said the past two months have decimated their bottom lines. Restaurant owner Omar Tawil said he lost the equivalent of $50,000 over the last eight weeks. Welder Bassem Zaitoun said his customers fear driving to his shop, which is within sight of an Israeli military installation.

For all the anger among Palestinians in Hebron, they have little faith in political parties to help them.

At the Mohtasseb home, Nafez pointed to pictures of his late brother, noting that the posters were free of logos of Fatah and Hamas, the Wests Bank’s two dominant political factions. He said parents demanding the return of their children’s bodies in Hebron had banned the two factions from flying their flags at protests.

“When Mahdi was martyred, Fatah came and said he is one of us. We refused,” Nafez Mohtasseb said. “There are no leaders. We bear this burden alone.”

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