The flare-up of violence on two fronts underscored the volatility of Israel’s festering conflict with the Palestinians even as Washington is trying to get both sides to resume peace talks.
“We will not accept the sporadic firing of rockets from either the Gaza Strip or Sinai,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the killing of Haitham al-Miskhal, who according to the Israeli army was a “key terror figure” affiliated with the Mujahideen Shura Council, an Islamist group active in Gaza and the Sinai area. “We will act to defend Israeli citizens.”
An Israeli aircraft targeted Miskhal in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. Miskhal, who worked as a police officer, was known to be linked to Islamist militant factions, according to Palestinians in Gaza familiar with his activities. An army statement said he was involved in arms production and trafficking and specialized in rockets and explosives that he sold to militant groups.
The statement said Miskhal was involved in “extensive terror activity” against Israeli civilians and soldiers, including the April 17 firing of two rockets toward Eilat by the Mujahideen Shura Council.
The Israeli slain in the West Bank was identified as Evyatar Borovsky, 31, a father of five who lived and worked as a security guard at the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank. He was killed as he stood at a hitchhiking stop at a major road junction.
The assailant stabbed Borovsky in the chest, seized his pistol and fired at a border police post before a police officer fired back, wounding the attacker, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The suspect was taken into custody and brought to an Israeli hospital for treatment.
Settlers retaliated for the attack by stoning Palestinian cars and torching farmland near villages around Yitzhar, the police and Palestinians said. Settlers set fire to olive groves in the villages of Asira al-Qibliya and Urif, near Nablus, where a mosque was damaged in an attempt to set it on fire, Palestinians reported. Seven girls on a school trip were hurt when two buses were pelted with stones, Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official, told the Palestinian news agency Maan.
Rosenfeld said five Israelis were arrested for setting fire to fields and hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles, including a bus whose driver suffered minor injuries, Rosenfeld said. He added that security forces were deployed in the area to prevent further attacks.
Spokesmen for the settlers blamed the fatal stabbing on what they called lax security policies by the Israeli government, including the removal of checkpoints and what the settlers described as a lenient response to increased stone-throwing at Israeli motorists on West Bank roads.
“The army must project a policy that creates deterrence,” Benny Katsover, a settler leader in the northern West Bank, told Israel Radio. He urged the government to respond to the killing by stepping up settlement building in the West Bank.
The stabbing came after an extended lull in lethal Palestinian attacks in the West Bank. No Israelis were killed there in 2012, according to Israel’s Shin Bet security service, marking the first year in decades in which there were no Israeli fatalities in the area.
In Jerusalem, a group of students at a religious Jewish high school assaulted two undercover police officers, members of the Druze minority, when the officers were heard chatting in Arabic, Rosenfeld said. The rabbi in charge of the high school said one student suspected in the attack is from Yitzhar, the settlement where Borovsky lived, Israel Radio reported.
Reyham Abdel Karim in Gaza contributed to this report.