A 15-year old Palestinian boy suspected of deliberately ramming his car into an Israeli army checkpoint, injuring a security guard, has been shot dead, according to Israel’s Defense Ministry. The security guard was taken to hospital where he was undergoing surgery. His condition is described as stable.
This is the latest in a series of violent incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which are prompting concern over rising tensions, as well as questions over how Israeli police respond to some events.
A photograph of Monday’s incident shows a silver car half on its side crashed through the windows of a concrete building, at a checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Tulkarem. The driver, named locally as Mohammed Younes from Nablus, was killed when other guards opened fire on him, the defense ministry said.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered checkpoints across the occupied West Bank to go on a heightened state of alert.
The latest incident comes less than two days after a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, which left a man hospitalized with knife wounds, authorities said. Police were criticized for shooting the suspect multiple times as he lay on the ground, while apparently incapacitated.
Video of that incident, which happened close to the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday afternoon, showed the attacker pulling out a knife and lunging at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man crossing the road behind him.
After a tussle, during which the stabbing victim, 20-year-old Avraham Elmaliach, sustained blows to the neck and upper body, the suspect is then seen running towards two Israeli border police officers who move forward and engage him. After several seconds, one of the officers opens fire, dropping him to the ground.
As the suspect, 25-year-old Mohammed Salameh from the West Bank town of Salfit, lies wounded on the ground, the police officers fire several more times killing him.
The video sparked criticism, with Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej saying on Twitter that assailants should only be shot to save lives, and not when they no longer pose a danger.
Many Palestinians went further. A statement from the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it an assassination.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev defended the police, saying in a statement that the police officers could not be certain whether the suspect was wearing a suicide belt. “Where there is doubt, there is no doubt,” he said in a tweet.
The police officers involved have been questioned over the incident, which police say is standard procedure after a fatal shooting. Israeli media reports the two are expected to be exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also gave his backing to the police officers. “This is how our officers are expected to act and this is how they acted,” he said in a statement. “We must not allow our capital city to become a hotbed of terrorism.”
There have been at least five attacks in Jerusalem since September, including one by a Hamas gunman that killed an Israeli working at the Western Wall.
All five incidents have seen the Palestinian suspect shot dead, CNN and other reporting shows.
To prevent further attacks, Israel’s Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel told Israeli television that police powers to stop and search needed to be stepped up. “It is not reasonable that Palestinians can walk around [the Damascus Gate and the Old City] without inspection,” he said.
He also raised the prospect of metal detectors being reinstalled at entry points to the Al Aqsa mosque compound.
When they were last installed, in the summer of 2017, following the fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers, it led to several weeks of unrest around the Old City, which ended when the machines were removed.
Away from Jerusalem, there are also concerns over a rising number of attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. A report by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 418 such attacks in the first 10 months of 2021 (up from 358 for the whole of 2020) including more than 100 against individuals.
According to the UN organization’s database of incidents, at least three Palestinians were shot dead by settlers in 2021.
The original article has been updated with new information about violent attacks in the West Bank.
Amir Tal and Abeer Salman contributed to this report