JERUSALEM — A gun battle broke out in a Palestinian neighborhood late Monday after Israeli forces tried to rescue two soldiers who had mistakenly entered the area because of an error on a satellite navigation app, Israeli authorities said Tuesday.
The clashes in the Qalandiya refugee camp outside Jerusalem left at least one Palestinian dead and 10 injured, one seriously. At least 10 Israeli soldiers also were wounded during the hour-long operation.
According to initial Israeli reports, the two soldiers said they had been using Waze, a highly touted, Israeli-invented navigation app bought more than two years ago by Google. The smartphone app, which has a settings option to “avoid dangerous areas,” relies on crowdsourcing to give users the fastest traffic routes.
But in places where the app is not widely used — such as the Palestinian villages surrounding Jerusalem and in the West Bank — the service could face limitations.
Agence France-Presse quoted a Waze official on Tuesday as saying that the setting to warn about areas “dangerous or prohibited for Israelis to drive through” had been switched off on the device the soldiers used.
“In this case, the setting was disabled,” the official told the news agency. “In addition, the driver deviated from the suggested route and, as a result, entered the prohibited area.”
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said the two soldiers were from a noncombat unit and had been using the Waze system, which he said led them into the Palestinian refugee camp by mistake.
It remained unclear how the soldiers could have stumbled into the middle of the camp, sandwiched between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah. To reach Qalandiya, the soldiers would have had to pass by the separation barrier between the West Bank and Israel and through an Israeli checkpoint.
In the camp, they were “stormed by a mob of people with rocks and molotov cocktails,” Lerner said. The troops’ vehicle was blocked from turning around and caught fire. The soldiers fled in separate directions.
One of the soldiers had a cellphone and within 30 minutes was located by backup units of soldiers and Israeli police. The second soldier was found an hour later in the vicinity of an Israeli settlement.
While the search operation was underway, a firefight broke out with armed Palestinians in the camp.
During the rescue mission, troops initiated the “Hannibal protocol,” allowing soldiers to raise the level of alert, increase the number of forces in the area and “carry out an extraction as fast as possible in order to end the incident,” Lerner said.
The protocol, which has often been criticized, allows for extraordinary military measures to prevent soldiers from being abducted.
Palestinians reported that at least 10 Qalandiya residents were injured during the clashes and that Iyad Omar Sajadiyya, a 22-year-old student at al-Quds University, was killed.
The Washington Post’s West Bank correspondent, Sufian Taha, witnessed the battle. He described Qalandiya as a “war zone.”
“There was a lot traffic, and you could hear the shooting like rain falling. Bullets were coming from every direction,” he said. “Suddenly, a large number of soldiers arrived and about 20 armored jeeps entered the camp.”
In an interview on Israel Radio, a former military commander of the area, Gadi Shamni, said that the refugee camp is a symbol of Palestinian resistance and that it has become a no man’s land where neither the Palestinian Authority nor Israeli authorities are in control.
“This vacuum attracts violent gangs and a lot of armed people,” he said. “There are incidents of shooting almost every evening in Qalandiya, certainly when the [Israeli military] enters.”
Tension between Israelis and Palestinians has been running high over the past five months, with almost daily stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. The violence has left at least 29 Israeli citizens and three foreign nationals dead.
More than 165 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, most while carrying out attacks and the rest during clashes with the military.