Israeli soldier dies in West Bank attack

A Palestinian police officer held

By Tia Goldenberg
Associated Press / February 11, 2010

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JERUSALEM - A knife-wielding Palestinian police officer killed an Israeli soldier yesterday as he sat in a jeep stopped at a traffic light in the West Bank, the military said, in a rare case of recent violence in the territory.

The attacker reached through the window and stabbed the soldier in the chest, the military said. The wounded soldier, who was alone in the vehicle, tried to drive away, but lost consciousness. The jeep spun out of control and rolled over.

The military identified the suspect as Mahmoud al-Khattib, and said he had tried to flee after the attack. A private Israeli security officer struck the suspect with his car, subduing him until police arrived. The dead soldier was identified as Staff Sergeant Ihab Khatib, an Israeli Arab from the Galilee region.

Neighbors said al-Khattib, 27, has ties to the Fatah group of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president.

Salam Fayyad, Palestinian prime minister, denounced the killing and said it “conflicts with our national interests.’’ He pledged to take steps to prevent such attacks, while endorsing “peaceful resistance’’ against settlements and Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.

A Palestinian ambulance was the first to arrive to help the soldier, said medic Abed Safouri. “I realized that he was clinically dead, but we gave him first aid, and we left when the Israelis took him,’’ he said.

Palestinian security authorities were informed of the attack and said they would carry out their own investigation, said Major Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military’s West Bank forces. “It is extraordinary that a Palestinian policeman would carry out such an attack, and we want to get to the bottom of this,’’ he said.

The soldier was a member of the small Druse community, an Arab sect whose followers serve in the Israeli military, unlike most of the rest of the nation’s Arab citizens. Many Druse join the paramilitary border police.

Khatib, 28, was in a regular army unit in the West Bank. As news of the attack spread, neighbors converged on his house in Maghar in Israel’s north. The village has both Christian Arab and Druse residents.

Israel’s Y-net news site said one of Khatib’s sisters was killed in a rocket attack from Lebanon during the 2006 war, and a brother, a soldier, was killed in the West Bank a decade ago.

Lethal attacks were once frequent in the West Bank but have become relatively rare as Palestinian forces were given increased security responsibility over parts of the territory.