A police officer seriously injured in a shootout with members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Saturday has been identified as a senior commander of the Yamam counter-terrorism unit.
The chief superintendent (the police equivalent of a lieutenant colonel) S. – who can only be identified by his rank and the first letter of his name – was the commander of the detachment responsible for capturing two of the six terrorist convicts who escaped from a prison in the north. Israel last year.
According to the news site Ynet, S. has played a key role in several deadly counter-terrorist operations and arrests of “outstanding terrorists” over the past 20 years.
S. was wounded before dawn on Saturday when his unit tried to arrest a cell of Islamic Jihad members in the village of Arraba in the north-West Bank, near Jenin, when they were allegedly heading to attack Israel.
The militants opened fire on the military, seriously injuring S. and lightly wounding four. He underwent surgery and was hospitalized in intensive care at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where he is in stable condition.
Three suspects were killed in the shootout, and the military later arrested an alleged fourth member of the cell during a rare afternoon operation in the town of Shuwayka, near the West Bank town of Tulkarem.
Police Commissioner Kobe Shabtai, who visited Rambam, said the cell planned to cross into Israeli territory from the West Bank and carry out a shootout similar to the one earlier this week in Bnei Brak, which killed five people.
“I have just visited the Yamama fighters, who before dawn eliminated a cell of terrorists who were going to attack Israeli territory,” Shabtai told reporters.
Officials described the three members of the cell as “ticking bombs” who were ready to carry out the attack.
The Islamic Jihad said the three killed were members of its military wing, calling them 30-year-old Saib Abahar from the village of Yamun near Jenin, 24-year-old Khalil Twalba from Jenin and 25-year-old Saif Abu Libde from Tulkarm.
The incident came amid rising tensions in Israel and the West Bank, including in the Jenin area.
A series of three deadly terrorist attacks in Israel in the week killed 11 people, including a shooting on Tuesday that killed five people, which put Israeli security forces on high alert. The escalation came when the Muslim holiday of Ramadan began, often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.
One of the three attacks was carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area; two other Israeli citizens who declare their affiliation with the Islamic State.
At least two Palestinian gunmen were killed in a shootout with Israeli troops on Thursday when riot police entered Jenin during a rare day raid as part of a large-scale anti-terrorist operation following recent attacks. At least 14 other Palestinians were injured in the incident, and dozens were arrested during the operation.
The IDF said the detention operation, dubbed “Volnorez”, was aimed at individuals suspected of planning future attacks, and some believe they are linked to Tuesday’s fatal attack in Bnei Brak. In addition, a Palestinian from Hebron was detained allegedly in connection with the Islamic State.
In response, Gaza’s ruling terrorist group, Hamas, has threatened to escalate violence against Israel.
Israel has stepped up security in response to attacks and has deployed additional forces in the West Bank, on the Gaza Strip and in major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Friday’s reports say Israeli security officials have specific warnings of imminent terrorist attacks and have thwarted a number of other planned attacks in recent days.
Public broadcaster Kan reported on Friday that Defense Minister Beni Ganz and IDF leader Aviv Kohavi had ordered the military to prepare for a monthly escalation.
Additional troops are expected to remain on the ground, and Kohawi has instructed the IDF to step up intelligence gathering in Syria, Sinai and the Palestinians in Lebanon.
Kohavi promised that the military would “act by all means to stop the terrorist attacks,” while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would “defeat them this time as well.”
Israeli officials have sought to defuse tensions ahead of Ramadan amid fears that violence could escalate into a snowball and turn into the same unrest that rocked Israel in May 2021 when Hamas began firing rockets at Israel, sparking an 11-day war with Gaza several days of unrest between Arabs and Jews in Israel.