January 20, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinian gunman opened fire at Israeli soldiers, who shot back and killed him, near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on Thursday, the military said.

The incident seemed likely to fuel concern in Israel that Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the occupied West Bank, which have largely subsided in the past few years, could increase if peace talks remain frozen.

Major Itamar Ashkenazi, a deputy battalion commander in the area where the shooting took place, said the attacker was on a donkey when he approached the guard post near the Jewish settlement of Mevo Dotan.

"He got off and came 50 metres from our barrier. He shouted Allah Akbar (God is greatest)," the officer said in a conference call with reporters. "He opened fire. (The soldiers) shot first in the air and after he didn't stop, they shot and killed him."

The Islamic Jihad militant group said Salem Samoudi was one of its members and that he was "martyed in an armed clash with enemy soldiers".

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last year over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to impose new curbs on settlement building in the West Bank, part of the territories where the Palestinians aim to found a state.

White House Middle East aide Dennis Ross arrived in Israel on Thursday to discuss "Israel's security needs" in any future agreement with the Palestinians, a statement from Netanyahu's office said.


Residents of Samoudi's village said he was a friend and distant relative of Khaldoun Samoudi, a Palestinian killed on Jan. 8 by Israeli troops. The soldiers said at the time he had walked up to their West Bank checkpoint holding a bomb.

A member of the Samoudi clan speculated that Salem Samoudi might have been trying to avenge his friend's death. But Ashkenazi said the army, "at this moment ... can't connect the two things".

The shooting raised to four the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank this year, including Khaldoun Saboudi who Israel said had a pipebomb.

They also included a man who was killed when he approached a military checkpoint carrying a bottle and another who was shot dead in his bedroom by soldiers who raided the wrong house in an operation to arrest a militant.

Netanyahu has made security a key element in peace negotiations. He has said Israel must keep troops in the Jordan Valley, along any future eastern border of a Palestinian state, to guard against weapons smuggling.

Palestinian officials have rejected that demand.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017