JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli soldier was killed early Tuesday during a West Bank arrest raid when a rock thrown off a rooftop struck him in the head, the military said.
The military often carries out predawn raids in search of wanted militants in the West Bank, occasionally encountering resistance, but the killing of a soldier is rare and this marked the first military casualty of the year.
The military said 21-year-old Staff Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal was on routine “operational activity” near the West Bank city of Jenin when a large rock was thrown off a rooftop and struck him on the head. A search was on for the attacker.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the forces had completed their mission and were leaving the village of Yaabed when the soldier was struck. He said the soldier was wearing a helmet and was quickly evacuated for medical treatment but later died of his wounds.
Dozens of soldiers, along with family members, attended the funeral. Many mourners wore face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, though they appeared to come into close contact with one another as Ben-Yigal was laid to rest with military honors in his hometown of Beer Yaakov, in central Israel.
“Until this morning at 6:30 I was a happy man, satisfied with himself and his way. At 6:30 this morning I turned into a miserable person," said the soldier's father, Baruch Ben-Yigal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to the soldier's family and vowed that “Israel's long arm would reach the terrorist" behind the attack.
Israel has seen a series of shootings, stabbings and car-ramming attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by lone attackers with no apparent links to armed groups. The most recent such attack came two weeks ago, on Israel’s Memorial Day, when a Palestinian teenager stabbed an Israeli woman outside a shopping center before he was shot and wounded by a bystander.
Tuesday's raid was aimed at arresting four Palestinians wanted for stone-throwing at Israeli vehicles and other recent attacks. It came a day after Israeli forces demolished the home of a Palestinian accused of being behind a deadly blast in the West Bank last year.
Israel says 22-year-old Qassem Barghouti carried out the attack last August that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb and wounded her father and brother near the settlement of Dolev. As the demolition took place Monday, dozens of Palestinians burned tires and hurled rocks and firebombs toward Israeli troops. Several Palestinians were wounded in the ensuing clashes.
Later Tuesday, Israeli police said a Palestinian arrived at a security checkpoint north of Jerusalem and tried to stab a security guard there. Police said officers at the scene shot the would-be attacker, who was seriously wounded.
The uptick in violence comes as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to arrive Wednesday for a quick visit to discuss Israeli plans to annex large parts of the West Bank as early as this summer.
Netanyahu is set to swear in his new government this week and his new coalition agreement with former rival Benny Gantz allows him to present an annexation proposal as soon as July 1.
The Palestinians claim the entire West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the heartland of an independent state. Annexing chunks of this territory would likely put an end to the Palestinians' already diminishing hopes of a two-state solution. Annexation also would anger the international community, which overwhelmingly supports Palestinian statehood.
But with a friendly White House behind him, and a Trump Mideast plan envisioning handing 30% of the West Bank to permanent Israeli control, Netanyahu appears poised to push forward with the plan and bring dozens of Jewish settlements under Israeli sovereignty.