Israeli forces on Saturday blocked exits from the southern West Bank city of Hebron as they launched a manhunt for assailants after shooting incidents targeting Jewish worshippers and a soldier.
Two Israeli teenagers were shot and wounded on Friday at the flashpoint site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, the army said.
Around 4,000 Jewish worshippers were visiting Hebron on Friday and Saturday as part of a religious pilgrimage centred around the biblical matriarch Sarah, who according to tradition was buried in a field which eventually became part of the city Hebron.
A soldier was also shot and wounded Friday near the Palestinian village of Beit Anon north of Hebron.
Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency said they had arrested overnight a 16-year-old Palestinian from Bani Naim village east of Hebron, who admitted carrying out the Beit Anon shooting and handed over the rifle he used.
On Saturday, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP there was “ongoing activity to locate the perpetrators of yesterday’s attacks”.
Israeli forces were searching Palestinian homes in and around Hebron as well as setting up new checkpoints, an AFP reporter said.
The army also blocked off the northern entrance of Hebron with mounds of earth. The eastern entrance has been sealed off for days.
Activists in the Youth against Settlements group in Hebron said they were “besieged” in their Hebron office by settlers accompanied by soldiers.
Palestinian TV journalists also said “settlers” disrupted their broadcasts, following which Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in downtown Hebron, an AFP reporter said.
Two Palestinians were wounded by live fire, Palestinian medics said.
A military spokeswoman said forces fired live rounds at “a main instigator” after unsuccessful attempts to otherwise quell dozens of Palestinians throwing stones at soldiers.
“One hit was confirmed,” she told AFP.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem on Friday criticised the army for carrying out “immoral and unlawful” measures which it said hinder Palestinian freedom of movement in Hebron, including closing off the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood.
“These steps constitute collective punishment of residents of Hebron who are suspected of nothing and are forced to suffer serious disruptions in their daily lives,” the group said.
Hebron has 200,000 Palestinian residents with approximately 500 Israeli settlers living in the centre, protected by an army-patrolled buffer zone. The situation is a constant source of tension.
Friday’s unrest broke a brief lull in the wave of deadly attacks and violent protests throughout October that raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.
Most of it had occurred in and around Hebron and mainly involved Palestinian stabbing attacks.