In a rare move, Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility on Monday for a terror shooting that left an Israeli security guard dead at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Ariel on Friday night.
“This operation comes within a series of responses to the defiling of our Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and aggression against it, ”the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement.
Sixteen Israelis have been killed in a deadly wave of terror attacks since mid-March. Hamas officials have encouraged and praised the bloodshed, but this is the first time that the terror group has taken credit.
The “heroic, quality” attack “will not be the last one, with God’s help,” the Qassam Brigades said.
Hamas’ military wing has rarely issued statements taking responsibility for attacks in recent years. Even when avowed Hamas members committed attacks – such as when an East Jerusalem schoolteacher killed an Israeli in the Old City last January – the terror group praised rather than claimed the killings.
A video that circulated after the attack purported to show that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a set of armed groups loosely affiliated with Fatah, Hamas’ main Palestinian rivals, had claimed the killing. The claim could not be fully confirmed, however, as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have no official channels.
Two Palestinians – Yousef Assi, 21, and Yahya Marei, 20 – were arrested by Israeli forces in connection with the attack on Saturday from the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan in the northern West Bank. Official Hamas media identified the two as Qassam Brigades members on Monday night.
“[The Qassam Brigades] declare its pride in its fighters, the blessed sons of Qassam in the occupied West Bank, who are still wielding the ‘Sword of Jerusalem,’ ”the terror group said, using Hamas’ name for the May war with Israel.
The victim of Friday’s attack, Israeli security officer Vyacheslav Golev, 23, was laid to rest in Beit Shemesh in central Israel on Sunday. Golev died while shielding his fiancee, Victoria Fligelman, who was on guard duty with him that night.
“He always defended everyone, whether his siblings, friends, everyone he knew, if something happened, he was always the first to defend them,” Golev’s childhood friend Daniel Zilbergstein told Channel 12.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for weeks. The deadly wave of terror against Israeli civilians led Israeli security forces to step up their activities in the West Bank to tamp down the violence in early April.
The resulting clashes left several Palestinians dead. Many were combatants or were claimed by terror groups as members. But some others – such as a visually impaired woman killed in a town near Bethlehem in April – appear to have been unarmed civilians.
Meanwhile, Palestinian rioters clashed with Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount holy site, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians hurled stones at officers, who responded with rubber bullets, sound grenades and tear gas, wounding hundreds.
The violent scenes at the flashpoint site, Judaism’s holiest and Islam’s third-holiest, sparked fears of renewed war between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite scattered rocket fire from Gaza in mid-April, however, the situation did not immediately deteriorate further.
On Saturday afternoon, Hamas Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar gave a speech laden with threats against Israel that urged Palestinians in the West Bank to commit terror attacks.
Our people in the West Bank, youth of the West Bank, do not wait for anyone’s decision! Individual acts have proven themselves to be exceptionally successful, ”Sinwar said in an hour-long address.
He said that any further Israeli “violations” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque would lead to attacks on Jewish synagogues worldwide.
“Whoever makes the decision to allow this photo to be repeated, the violation of Al-Aqsa – he has decided to allow the violation of thousands of synagogues and Jewish temples all across the world,” Sinwar said