A group of Israeli settlement police travelling through the occupied West Bank Monday morning were shot at by unknown gunmen from the side of the road, in what was presumed to be an attack by Palestinian fighters. One settler, Yehoshua (Shuki) Sofer, was shot in the stomach and died at the hospital shortly after his arrival there.Two other Israeli settlement officers were wounded by gunshots, according to the Israeli settlement council. The road in question, Road 60, stretches through the West Bank but is off-limits to the indigenous Palestinian population.

A Palestinian armed resistance group associated with the Fatah party, the Imad Mughniyeh Group of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group said the attack was in response to Israel’s recent assault on a humanitarian aid caravan to Gaza, in which Israeli forces killed 9 unarmed international aid workers.

The Fatah party runs the de facto government in the West Bank, despite having been defeated by the Hamas party in internationally-observed elections in January 2006. The armed wing of the group has diminished its activities in recent years, and only spin-off groups like the Imad Mughniyeh group have participated in attacks against Israelis in the last year.

Israeli settler leaders and some right-wing Knesset (Parliament members) blamed the recent opening of a few of the nearly 700 checkpoints in the West Bank for the attack. Palestinians who live in the West Bank remain severely restricted in their freedom of movement, and have no control over any aspect of their government. Michael Ben-Ari, with the right-wing National Union party, stated, “Opening roadblocks encourages terror and gives a free hand to terrorists.’ His statement makes little sense when comparing the actual rate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis, which was highest in 2002, when restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement was at an all-time high.

Over 300,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, on land seized by military force from the indigenous Palestinian population in contravention of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. These settlers have the full protection of the Israeli military, the fourth largest army in the world, against a defenseless population of Palestinians who have little recourse when their land is seized and turned into an Israeli-only settlement or confiscated for the construction of the Israeli Annexation Wall which is being constructed well beyond the armistice line of 1967.