by Yoav Limor
The terror attack near Hebron on the eve of Passover came at an especially sensitive time -- not only did it coincide with a crisis in the peace talks, but it took place ahead of a series of memorial events scheduled for the next few days, which are automatically expected to significantly aggravate tensions across Judea and Samaria.
On the Jewish side, a special prayer service scheduled to take place at the Cave of the Patriarchs is expected to draw thousands of worshipers to Hebron, spelling extensive security deployment. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Authority will mark "Prisoner Day" on Thursday with mass rallies across the West Bank, which Israeli defense officials believe are likely to escalate into violent riots.
Security presence across Judea and Samaria was bolstered ahead of Passover and another battalion was deployed in Hebron alone. However, in the absence of a credible threat or intelligence indicating an imminent terror attack, the troops' deployment along the various highways in the area -- including along Route 35, where Monday evening's attack took place -- was unchanged, despite the known vulnerability of the area, which is adjacent to the Palestinian village of Idhna, from which shooting attacks have emanated in the past.
The military's initial investigation into the shooting attack concluded that it targeted three vehicles that happened to be traveling on the road at that time. The first vehicle escaped unscathed, the driver of the second vehicle was killed and his wife was wounded, and a child travelling in the third vehicle was wounded as well.
While the Israel Defense Forces had initially assumed this was the work of a lone attacker, by Tuesday evening defense officials said the incident had the markings of an organized terror cell. Their premise was based on the fact that all signs indicated that this was a planned attack, which was carefully executed far from any of the military positions in the area; that the perpetrator's weapon of choice was an AK-47 and not an outdated rifle; and that the shooter had an obvious escape plan, likely with the assistance of another individual.
While no terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack at this time, the shooting took place in an area where Hamas has significant presence on the ground. Security sources were "cautiously optimistic" Tuesday that the case would be solved soon, despite the fact that the last terror attack that happened in the area in September 2013, in which Staff Sgt. Gal (Gabriel) Kobi was killed by a Palestinian sniper, has remained unsolved.
Despite the diplomatic stalemate, Israeli and Palestinian security forces coordinated their efforts on Tuesday, as both sides remember well that the last terror attack to take place on the eve of Passover -- the 2002 suicide attack in the Park Hotel in Netanya -- led to Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. It is likely that Ramallah is just as concerned as Jerusalem that the stalled peace talks, Tuesday's attack and the events of the coming days will cause the security reality on the ground to deteriorate further.
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