Israeli forces set up roadblocks around Nablus after settler killed
RAMALLAH - Israeli occupation forces set up roadblocks and deployed around a major Palestinian city in the illegally occupied West Bank on Wednesday, in a manhunt for Palestinians who shot dead an Israeli settler.
Raziel Shevah, a 35-year-old rabbi, was killed late Tuesday while driving near the wildcat settlement where he lived, Havat Gilad near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Some 22 gunshots were found in his car, Israel's army radio reported. The gunshots reportedly came from a passing vehicle.
"Entrances and exits to and from the villages surrounding Nablus will be possible only after security checks," the military said in a statement.
"The review of the incident is ongoing. Based on situation assessments, it was decided to reinforce the area with additional forces."
The area frequently sees tensions between extremist Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents.
Shevah was laid to rest at the wildcat settlement on Wednesday -- the first person to be buried there at the wish of his family.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral, which included cries for "revenge" from youths in the crowd during a speech by Education Minister Naftali Bennett from the far-right Jewish Home party.
Bennett responded by saying the only revenge should be in building more settlements in the West Bank.
Palestinian security sources said they were not aware of any arrests yet, but added that settlers in the area had thrown stones at Palestinian cars.
Israel's military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot visited the site of the shooting on Wednesday.
Other Israeli officials denounced the attack, with some calling for collective punishment against Palestinians, such as the demolition of the homes of the attackers.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, welcomed the attack.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he ordered his staff to look into how Havat Gilad could be 'legalised' as an Israeli settlement.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Israel however differentiates between the settlements it has approved and those it has not.
Those without approval are referred to as outposts and are typically populated by hardline religious nationalists, who see the entire West Bank as biblical land promised to them by the 'God of Israel'.
Occasional attempts by Israeli authorities to evacuate Havat Gilad have led to clashes with the settlers there. Some 50 families currently live in Havat Gilad.
Sporadic unrest has occurred since US President Donald Trump provoked Palestinian anger by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6.
Fourteen Palestinians have been killed since then, with most of them shot dead by Israeli forces during protests against the occupation. Shevah is the first Israeli killed since then.
It was unclear if Tuesday's shooting had any link to Trump's announcement.
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, himself a vocal supporter of the illegal Jewish-only settlements, said on Twitter: "An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists."
"Hamas praises the killers and PA (Palestinian Authority) laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace."
- Palestinian condemnation -
The Palestinian government attacked Friedman's comments Wednesday, with the foreign ministry accusing the US ambassador of a "prejudiced and selective attitude towards the occupation, settlement construction, and the Palestinian just and legitimate national rights."
It pointed to Friedman's silence over the execution by Israeli forces of a disabled Palestinian activist during recent protests and clashes on the Gaza border, and other killings of Palestinians by Israeli troops, as evidence of his bias.
"Friedman's remarks and positions further complicated the road towards the peace process and the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, specifically after President Donald Trump's declaration on Jerusalem," the statement added.
Trump's December 6 announcement that he would move the US embassy from Israel's commercial capital to Jerusalem enraged the Palestinians.
They said they will no longer engage with the Trump administration's push for fresh peace talks.
Friedman was referring to payments to the families of imprisoned Palestinians, including those who have carried out attacks against Israelis, and to those killed while carrying out attacks.
Israeli officials say payments to the families of attackers encourages violence and have regularly called for a halt to them.
On Tuesday the Israeli Ministry of Defence said the Palestinian Authority had paid out 1.2 billion shekels ($350 million) last year in such payments.
The ministry said it was pursuing legislation that would allow Israel to subtract the amount of those payments from the tax revenue it collects and later hands over to the Palestinian Authority.
For Palestinians, such payments are a key source of income for families who have in many cases lost their main breadwinner.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, did not dispute the figures but said that the Palestinian people overwhelmingly supported the payments.
"We stress the commitment of the Palestinian people to the prisoners and families of the prisoners. This is a legal, moral and humanitarian obligation."
Palestinians also see the payments as symbolically important after decades of yearning for elusive statehood and struggle against Israel's military occupation.
Some 400,000 Jewish settlers live in the illegally occupied West Bank under Israeli military protection, among some 2.6 million Palestinians who consider their presence land theft upheld by a system of apartheid.