Palestinians fired on an Israeli bus on a desert highway in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Israeli military authorities and medics said, wounding five soldiers and the driver in an attack that suggested violence may be spiralling anew.
The incident, in which authorities said two suspected gunmen were detained as they tried to escape, took place within driving distance of Jenin and Nablus, Palestinian cities that have seen months of intensive and often lethal Israeli security sweeps.
Witnesses said Palestinians in a car overtook the bus, spraying it with bullets and, when it came to a halt, tried to torch it. Israeli TV aired footage of a car ablaze after, it said, a firebomb went off inside.
There was no immediate Palestinian claim of responsibility, but a spokesman for Islamist Hamas praised the attack as “proof that all attempts by the Occupation (Israel) to stop the escalating resistance operations in the West Bank have failed”.
Israel has stepped up raids in the West Bank over recent months after several deadly attacks by Palestinians in its cities between March and May.
The violence has added to obstacles in the drive for Palestinian independence. U.S.-sponsored statehood talks with Israel stalled in 2014, economic prospects are dim and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, has seen its domestic credibility sapped.
Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said he hoped for a peace accord with the PA but described this prospect as unfeasible as of now.
“The situation is very sensitive and explosive, on the one hand, while on the other we are seeing growing numbers of Palestinians who understand that the way forward is not one of violence,” Ben-Barak told Israel’s Army Radio.
Israel, he added, would respond “very forcefully … while enabling those who don’t want to turn to terrorism to continue with their routine lives”.