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Israeli army raids, seals hometown of Palestinian assailant, detains brother

July 22, 2017 11:33 A.M. (Updated: July 23, 2017 4:05 P.M.)
Photos courtesy of the al-Abed family
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hours after a stabbing attack inside the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish in the central occupied West Bank left three Israelis dead, Israeli forces raided and imposed a military closure on the nearby hometown of the assailant, preventing residents from entering or leaving the village, and detained the attacker's brother. A raid into the town later Saturday afternoon sparked clashes.

The assailant, identified as 19-year-old Omar al-Abed, was shot and moderately wounded by an Israeli soldier, a neighbor of the victims who arrived to the scene of the attack after hearing shouting coming from the house, according to Israeli media reports.

Omar al-Abed’s uncle Ibrahim told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided the village of Kobar, located north of Ramallah city and just a few kilometers east of Halamish, at around 5 a.m. Saturday, stormed Omar’s family’s home, and handcuffed his siblings, mother, and father.

As Israeli soldiers searched the house for more than an hour, upending and destroying the family's furniture and belongings, Israeli forces interrogated each of the family members separately, asking if they had any knowledge of Omar’s intentions to carry out the attack.

The family insisted that they were surprised by the attack and said they had learned of it only after seeing reports on social media and news sites, Ibrahim said.

Israeli forces detained Omar’s 22-year-old brother Munir, a student at Birzeit University.

Israeli forces stormed and searched dozens of other houses in Kobar during the raid, including the home of the sister of Nael Barghouthi -- the longest serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody -- and stole an amount of money from her.

Israeli forces also detained another youth in the village identified by locals as Muhammad Asfour al-Barghouthi. However, an Israeli army spokesperson denied that a second Palestinians was detained in the village.

In response to request for comment on the raid, the spokesperson said that the army “surveyed the house of the assailant," presumably in preparation to punitively demolish it, and "confiscated weapons and money used for terror."

They confirmed Omar’s brother was in custody and that “movement out of the village is limited to humanitarian cases only.”

Later Saturday afternoon, a bulldozer escorted by Israeli army forces stormed the village, with locals fearing the troops were planning to carry out the punitive demolition immediately.

The raid sparked clashes at the northern entrance to the town, Ibrahim told Ma'an.

However, according to an Israeli army spokesperson, it was unlikely that Israeli forces would carry out the demolition right away, and said she was looking into reports of the clashes.

An army spokesperson later released a statement saying that Israeli forces carried out "engineering works" to enforce the security closure on the village, presumable referring to the installation of roadblocks at around Kobar.

The Israeli army also used a drone to take footage of al-Abed's house, and footage of Halamish was also taken by a balloon, according to the statement.

Attached in the statement was the aerial footage, as well as footage of the Israeli army raids into Kobar overnight and Saturday.

Punitive demolitions generally require approval in Israeli courts -- despite appeals to such orders by Palestinian families, who are often not accused of any wrongdoing, being rejected the vast majority of the time.

Israel's policy of punitive demolitions has been denounced as a form of collective punishment and "court-sanctioned revenge" by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

The Israeli army had also reportedly detained a "suspicious" unarmed Palestinian near Halamish overnight Friday, according to Israeli media. An Israeli army spokesperson said he was currently in the custody of the Israel Security Agency, the Shin Bet.

The Israeli government has long faced criticism for its response to attacks, with rights groups saying severe security measures amount to collective punishment and a violation of international law.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim said the family had received conflicting reports regarding Omar’s health, and sources from inside the hospital said he was in critical condition and unable to move.

However, a spokeswoman from Rabin Medical Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, where Omar was taken after being shot, told Ma’an he was in a "light condition" as of Saturday morning, and later reported he was discharged from the hospital and transferred to prison in the early evening.

She did not provide additional details on the extent of his injuries or the treatment he received.

Israeli media reported that al-Abed wrote on Facebook before carrying out the attack: "I have many dreams and I believe they will come true, I love life and I love to make others happy, but what is my life when they (Israel) murder women and children and defile our Al-Aqsa?"

The deadly attack took place after three Palestinians were killed -- two of them by Israeli police and one reportedly by an Israeli settler -- when large-scale civil disobedience demonstrations in Jerusalem erupted into violent clashes earlier on Friday.

Hundreds more unarmed Palestinians were wounded by Israeli forces, amid protests across the occupied territory against new security measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City, imposed in the wake of a deadly shoot-out at the holy site last week that left three  assailants and two police officers -- all Palestinian citizens of Israel -- killed.

Palestinians have seen the measures at Al-Aqsa as the latest example of Israeli authorities using Israeli-Palestinian violence and tensions as a means of furthering control over important sites in the occupied Palestinian territory and normalizing heightened measures by Israeli forces targeting Palestinians.
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