Hamas Praises West Bank Attack as Israel Launches Manhunt for Rabbi's Killers

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Israeli forces man a roadblock on January 10, 2018 in the area where a 35-year-old Israeli rabbi was killed late the previous day while driving near the wildcat settlement where he lived, around the West Bank village of Jit near Nablus. Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty

Palestinian militant group Hamas has praised a drive-by shooting that killed a Jewish father-of-six near his home on a West Bank settlement on Tuesday night.

At least one gunman fired shots at Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, killing him as he drove on the highway near the outpost of Havat Gilad, close to the Palestinian city of Nablus. No group has claimed responsibility but Hamas, the Gaza-based militant organization that considers Israel to be its arch-enemy, "blessed" the attack.

In a statement to Newsweek, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the attack was "a result of the Zionist occupation and crimes against our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque," referring to the site in Jerusalem that is the third holiest in Islam.

"The Zionist occupation government bears all the consequences of its extreme racist policies," the statement continued.

It remains unclear how many people were involved in the attack, but they remain at large. The Israeli military has launched a manhunt for those responsible and has imposed roadblocks in and around Nablus.

"A number of actions were decided upon in order to locate the terrorists who committed the shooting attack, including security checks upon entrances and exits to and from the city of Nablus and placing forces and security crossings across the city," the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement.

Israeli special forces were operating in Palestinian villages overnight as the manhunt for the killer of Shevach intensified. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot joined the search. "The main mission at the moment is to locate the cell, to stop it and to prevent further terror events, and also to prepare for further activity in the area over the weekend," Eisenkot said, according to the Times of Israel.

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Israeli forces man a roadblock on January 10, 2018 in the area where a 35-year-old Israeli rabbi was killed late the previous day while driving near the wildcat settlement where he lived, around the West Bank village of Jit near Nablus. Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty

The outpost in question, Havat Gilad, is deemed illegal under Israeli law, but far-right Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he would look into the possibility of legalizing the outpost in response to the attack. "I have also ordered an examination of the possibility of legalizing Havat Gilad," he said of the settlement created in 2002 in memory of the victim of another attack, Gilad Zar.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that Israeli "security forces will do everything possible in order to reach the foul murderer, and the State of Israel will bring him to justice."

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel in the Gaza Strip since 2007, the year that Israel implemented a crippling economic blockade on the territory. Egypt also controls a crossing in and out of the coastal enclave.

Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and maintains a military occupation there. Right-wing Israelis and the Israeli government consider east Jerusalem to be part of their "undivided capital," and refer to the West Bank by the biblical names Judea and Samaria, believing the territories to be the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.

In response to President Donald Trump's recent announcement that he had ordered the relocation of Washington's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Hamas had called for a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in response to the move that Arab leaders had opposed for months.