Israel locks down Ramallah after two soldiers shot dead


Israeli forces and forensic experts inspect the site of a Palestinian drive-by shooting in the West Bank on December 13, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

A Palestinian shot dead two Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the military said, sparking army raids in the city of Ramallah during which a Palestinian was killed.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to 'legalise' thousands of settlements homes considered unlawfully-built even by Israel.

The attack came hours after security forces killed two Palestinian murder suspects.

In total six people were killed in the most violent 24 hours to hit the West Bank and Jerusalem in months.

The Israeli army said a Palestinian exited his car at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement in the West Bank before opening fire on soldiers and civilians.

Two soldiers were killed and at least two other people -- including another soldier -- were wounded, the army said, with the attacker fleeing.

"We are searching for the terrorist. We will find him," the military said on Twitter.

Following the attack, the army raided the nearby city of Ramallah, home to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Entrances and exits to the city were sealed and the army entered multiple neighbourhoods, AFP correspondents said.

Clashes broke out in various spots and continued into Thursday evening.

A 60-year-old man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, in what the army said was an attempted car ramming.

- Hamas claim -

The bus stop shooting came only hours after Israeli forces killed two militants allegedly responsible for West Bank attacks that claimed the lives of three Israelis, including a baby.

The armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel in Gaza since 2008, claimed the two Palestinians as its "fighters."

One of them was Salah Barghouti, a 29-year-old accused of shooting seven Israelis on Sunday, also at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement.

The Shin Bet Israeli internal security service said that other members of Barghouti's group, all of them affiliated with Hamas, had been arrested overnight.

A woman who was seven months pregnant was among those wounded in that attack.

Doctors tried to save her baby boy with an emergency caesarean but he died on Wednesday and was buried in Jerusalem.

The mother remains in hospital in a serious condition.

The other Palestinian killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday night had been suspected of shooting dead two Israelis in October.

Ashraf Naalwa, 23, was killed when forces tried to arrest him near Nablus in the West Bank, Israel's Shin Bet security service said.

In another incident Thursday morning, a Palestinian stabbed two Israeli border police in Jerusalem's Old City before being shot dead.

- Netanyahu pledge -

The violence came amid heightened tensions in the West Bank, with a former head of Shin Bet's intelligence and research division saying it appeared to be a "new front" opened by Gaza's rulers Hamas.

While Abbas's forces control Palestinian cities in the West Bank, some Hamas cells continue to operate.

Since Sunday's attack, Israeli forces have made a series of incursions into central Ramallah, where Abbas's Palestinian Authority is based.

Abbas himself condemned the anti-Israeli attacks but highlighted Israeli raids as a potential cause of anger.

"The climate created by the policy of repeated intrusions into the cities, the provocations against the sovereignty of the president and the lack of a horizon for peace are what led to this unacceptable series of violence that we condemn and reject," he said.

Hebrew posters have been pasted in the West Bank over the past week inciting the killing of Abbas.

Speaking Thursday evening, Netanyahu vowed to legalise "thousands" of settlement homes built without even Israeli permits.

All settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as a major obstacle to peace, but Israel draws a distinction between those it sanctions and those constructed without permission.

"They think they can uproot us from our land, they will not succeed," he said in a statement.

Netanyahu also said they would seek to destroy the homes of Palestinian attackers within 48 hours.

Israel seized control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

Around 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements there considered illegal by the international community.

Many Palestinians consider violence against Israelis in the West Bank to be a justified response to the growth of settlements on land they see as theirs.