Israel searches for Palestinian attackers who killed guard

The Israeli military on Saturday launched a manhunt in the northern West Bank as it searched for a pair of Palestinian attackers who shot and killed a security guard at the entrance of a Jewish settlement.

The fresh attack, combined with the death of a Palestinian man elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, could further fuel tensions that have soared over the past two months. A string of Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 15 Israelis dead, while at least 27 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in recent weeks.

The security guard was shot outside Ariel, a major settlement in the northern West Bank, late Friday night by a pair of assailants in a car, the army said. It said the guard stood in front of another guard who was with him, saving her life.

Israeli forces on Saturday set up checkpoints and were conducting searches for the attackers in the area, the army said. It said it arrested two purported members of the Hamas militant group, but there was no immediate indication that the men were involved in the attack. Hamas praised the killing of the guard but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the shooting.

In a separate incident, Israeli troops shot and killed a 27-year-old Palestinian man in Azoun village near the town of Qalqilya early Saturday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The army said it had opened fire after a group of suspects threw firebombs toward the soldiers.

Tensions have been heightened in recent weeks by Palestinian shooting attacks in Israeli cities, an Israeli military crackdown in the northern West Bank, where some of the attackers came from, and recurring confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli police around the most sensitive religious site in Jerusalem.

The site contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and increasing numbers of Palestinians go there to pray during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The hilltop compound is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it was where the biblical Temples were situated.

The site is a frequent flashpoint of tensions, and violence there last year helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.

In recent weeks, Israeli police and Palestinians have clashed there on a number of occasions, including Friday morning. Israeli authorities accuse Hamas of inciting violence and say security forces were forced to intervene to halt stone-throwing.

The Palestinians say the presence of Israeli police at the site, and regular visits by increasing numbers of nationalist and religious Jews, are a violation of decades-old informal arrangements governing the site. The visits were halted last week for the last 10 days of Ramadan, which concludes this weekend.

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