2 Israeli sisters, ages 16 and 20, killed in West Bank shooting


(JTA) — Gunmen shot and killed two Israeli sisters and critically injured their mother in an attack on a car in the West Bank on Friday.

First responders responded to what at first was believed to be a car accident at Hamra junction in the northern Jordan Valley, Israeli media reported. They found a car riddled with over 20 bullet holes. Troops were searching the area for the attackers.

Two sisters, aged 16 and 20, were dead, and their mother was evacuated to a hospital. The father of the family was driving in a car ahead and doubled back to find the scene. The family are residents of the West Bank town of Efrat, near Bethlehem. Haaretz reported that they are immigrants from Britain.

The shooting was an echo of an attack in the West Bank town of Huwara in February, when a gunman shot dead two brothers traveling on Route 60, a north-south artery.

That was followed by an Israeli settler revenge attack on Huwara that left at least one Palestinian dead and stirred international outrage.

The shooting attack comes after a day of rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip and from Lebanon, which spurred Israel to launch retaliatory air raids before dawn on Friday.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has intensified since a series of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis were followed by Israeli army raids on Palestinian centers in recent months. The tensions flared in December after Benjamin Netanyahu formed the most right-wing government in Israel’s history and appointed ministers who favor further restrictions on West Bank Palestinians. At least 16 Israelis and close to 100 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of this year.

The latest round of violence started Tuesday night when Israeli troops subdued Palestinian worshippers who were occupying Al-Aqsa mosque in the Temple Mount, a site in Jerusalem holy to Muslims and Jews. The worshipers threw fireworks and stones at the troops, who beat the worshipers in scenes caught on phone video.

The worshipers were violating a rule against spending the night in the mosque because of reports that Jewish extremists planned on sacrificing an animal on the Temple Mount to mark Passover. Jewish worship on the Mount is limited by a decades old arrangement to silent prayer, and attempts top breach that norm have in the past led to tensions and violence.

Temple Mount violence has tended to increase in years when Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holy period of fasting and worship, coincides with major Jewish holidays.