Israel army claims killing ‘top militant’ in West Bank strike

Army says Ahmed Abdullah Abu Shalal responsible for ‘number of terrorist attacks’ without providing details of attacks

AFP January 17, 2024
Palestinians take part in a protest against the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 5, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS


The Israeli army said it killed a top Palestinian militant in an air strike in the occupied West Bank early Wednesday, averting a "terrorist attack" he was planning.

Ahmed Abdullah Abu Shalal had been responsible for a "number of terrorist attacks" over the past year, including one in annexed east Jerusalem, the army said.

The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah however said the body of an "unidentified martyr killed by the occupation (Israel) in a bombing of a vehicle" had been received by a hospital in Nablus.

He was "eliminated in a precision air strike," the Israeli army said in a statement that had a video link showing the strike on a vehicle.

The army said Abu Shalal was killed following intelligence "of his cell's intentions of carrying out an imminent terrorist attack".

The army did not offer details, but said he was responsible for carrying out a shooting in the Shimon HaTzadik neighbourhood of east Jerusalem in April last year in which two residents were wounded.

Abu Shalal was also responsible for a bomb attack on Israeli troops in October in which one soldier was wounded. The army did not specify where the soldiers were targeted.

"Under Abdullah's leadership, the terrorist infrastructure in the Balata (refugee) camp in Nablus has received funding and guidance from Iranian sources," the army claimed.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza on October 7, the West Bank has experienced a level of violence not seen since the second Palestinian uprising or intifada between 2000 and 2005.

Israeli army raids and attacks by settlers have killed around 350 people in the territory, according to an AFP tally based on sources from both sides.

Medicine for hostages, civilians bound for Gaza

Deliveries of medicine for Israeli hostages and Palestinian civilians were expected to start arriving in Gaza on Wednesday under a deal mediated by Qatar and France, after a night of deadly bombardments in the territory's south.

Palestinian resistance fighters took around 250 hostages during the bloody October 7 attacks, and around 132 are still in Gaza, including at least 27 believed to have been killed.

The fate of those remaining in captivity has gripped Israeli society, while a broader humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory marked by the threat of famine and disease has fuelled international calls for a ceasefire.

At least 24,448 Palestinians have been killed, and 61,504 wounded in relentless Israeli air strikes on Gaza since October 7.

In a statement to the official Qatar News Agency (QNA), Doha on Tuesday announced a deal "between Israel and (Hamas), where medicine along with other humanitarian aid is to be delivered to civilians in Gaza... in exchange for delivering medication needed for Israeli captives in Gaza".

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majid Al-Ansari told QNA the medicine and aid would leave Doha on Wednesday for the Egyptian city of El-Arish before being transported to the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office confirmed the deal.

Forty-five hostages are expected to receive medication under the agreement, according to the French presidency.

Read US attacks Houthi anti-ship missiles, vessel hit in Red Sea

After the drugs arrive at a hospital in the southern Gaza border town of Rafah on Wednesday, it said, they will be received by the International Committee of the Red Cross, divided into batches and immediately transferred to the hostages.

Hamas released dozens of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a November ceasefire mediated by Qatar, which hosts the group's political office.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday he was "hopeful" that Qatar-brokered talks could lead to another such deal "soon".

The war in Gaza began with Hamas' unprecedented October attack that resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

At least 24,285 Palestinians, about 70 percent of them women and children, have been killed in Gaza in Israeli bombardments and ground operations since, according to the territory's health ministry.

The ministry reported early Wednesday that another 81 people were killed in overnight strikes, including in the main southern city of Khan Yunis.

The United Nations says the war has displaced roughly 85 percent of Gaza's 2.4 million people, many of whom have been forced to crowd into shelters and struggle to get food, water, fuel and medical care.

Just before midnight on Tuesday, witnesses reported strikes on the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, sparking panic among the hundreds of displaced people seeking shelter there.

Earlier in the day, residents of the city sifted through the rubble from strikes as trucks and carts stacked high with displaced families' possessions rolled down the street.

"You can see the destruction. This room was inhabited by people, this one was inhabited by 20 children, women and men, and the same thing goes for the neighbouring houses in the whole camp," resident Mohamad Ramadan told AFP, gesturing at a destroyed home where he said several people had been killed.

"These men can still find some of their body parts, nothing but remains torn apart," he added.

In Tel Aviv, anti-war protesters scuffled with police on Tuesday night, as some held up signs reading "End the siege" and "Stop the genocide".

"The occupation leads to bloodshed, and it continues incessantly. The children growing up now in Gaza are the ones who will confront us in a few years," protester Chava Lerman told AFP.

"Civilians are getting killed by the Israeli bombings," said fellow protester Michal Sapri. "It leads to nothing. Our hostages are still there. We're not going to release them (through) more military power."

The Israeli public has kept up intense pressure on Netanyahu's government to secure the return of the hostages, with officials repeatedly insisting military pressure is necessary to bring about any kind of deal.

On Tuesday, an Israeli kibbutz confirmed that two hostages whose deaths were announced by Hamas in a video had been killed in Gaza.

Meanwhile, fears of an all-out war across the Middle East have continued to mount, with violence involving regional allies of Iran-backed Hamas - considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union - surging since the war began.

The US military said it carried out fresh strikes in Yemen on Tuesday after the country's Houthi rebels claimed another missile attack on a cargo ship in the Red Sea.

It came just days after the United States and Britain bombed scores of targets inside Houthi-controlled Yemen in response to attacks by the rebels, who say they are targeting Israeli-linked shipping in the Red Sea in solidarity with Gaza.

The US media reported that Washington would on Wednesday re-designate the Houthis a terrorist group, after previously dropping the classification in 2021.

Also on Tuesday, Israel's army hit Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon, with a security source saying the strikes were "the most intense" on a single area since the Hamas-aligned militants first began exchanging cross-border fire with Israel after the start of the war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Iran - which backs both the Houthis and Hezbollah - carried out a missile attack in Iraq's Kurdistan region against what its Revolutionary Guards alleged was an Israeli spy headquarters and a "gathering of anti-Iranian terrorist groups".

It also said it had hit Islamic State group targets in Syria, while Pakistan accused it of carrying out a strike inside Pakistani territory that killed two children.

"We are already in a regional war... even though it's still at a low simmer," said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group.


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