JERUSALEM — Two Israeli policemen were shot to death Sunday while traveling in their vehicle near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and authorities said they suspected a Palestinian attack.
It was the first fatal shooting of an Israeli in the West Bank since April. Such incidents are rare because the Israeli army controls much of the traffic in the Palestinian territory. Security checks are especially rigid along Highway 90, a main north-south route, where Sunday's shooting occurred.
Over the last year, the army has removed some checkpoints in the West Bank to give Palestinians greater freedom of movement and improve the climate for U.S.-brokered talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state.
Hours before the shooting, the army removed one such barrier northwest of Nablus, the main city in the northern West Bank. The checkpoint had restricted traffic between Nablus and several villages since 2001.
The shooting occurred near the Jordan Valley settlement of Massua, in the opposite direction from Nablus. Nonetheless, Israeli settler groups used the attack to criticize the gradual easing of travel restrictions and other concessions to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
"Every thinking person knew that the policy of removing checkpoints and releasing terrorists . . . would exact a high toll in blood," said Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council, Israel's largest settler organization. "Unfortunately, the government would not heed repeated warnings, and this is the result."
The men killed Sunday were traffic policemen. Officials said their car came under fire, from a passing vehicle or a stationary ambush, then veered off the highway and overturned. Both officers died of gunshot wounds, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
He said the police suspected Palestinian nationalists. The army closed all roads in the area in a search for the gunmen.
Most of the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence has taken place along the southern border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Most of the West Bank skirmishes occur near settlements.