Negotiations to return the body of an 18-year-old Israeli snatched from a hospital in the West Bank by terrorists were underway late Wednesday night, but with no clear deal imminent, some members of the Druze community vowed to take action themselves. to undertake.
Tiran Fero, from the Druze-majority city of Daliyat al-Karmel, was seriously injured in a car accident in Jenin and was taken to a hospital in the Palestinian city due to his serious condition. His family claims Palestinian gunmen took his life and snatched him from the hospital, while initial reports indicated he was already dead when he was taken.
Unnamed security officials have said the suspects are demanding the release of Palestinians detained by Israel or the bodies of deceased Palestinian terrorists held by Israel in exchange for Fero, who was a senior in high school.
Several Israeli media reports Wednesday night suggested that intense negotiations are underway to secure the release of Fero’s body, involving those at the highest echelons of government and security institutions in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday that “if Tiran’s body is not returned, the kidnappers will pay a heavy price.”
Kan public broadcaster quoted Palestinian officials as saying there is a possible breakthrough in talks to return Fero’s body, but that Israeli officials have rejected any demand for a prisoner exchange.
A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that the suspects snatched Fero because they believed he was an undercover Israeli soldier.
Former cabinet minister Salah Tarif, a member of the Druze community, told the Ynet news site on Wednesday that he is involved in the negotiations and that talks have been ongoing all day to secure Fero’s return.
Tarif said he had personally contacted Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh about the issue, and that top PA officials are involved: “This issue has even reached the head of Islamic Jihad in Beirut,” claimed Tarif.
Hadash-Ta’al chief MK Ayman Odeh was quoted by Ynet on Wednesday night as saying he was also involved in the negotiations and that “there are signs [Fero] can be released tonight.
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Anger over the kidnapping among Druze Israelis mounted on Wednesday night, with thousands attending a protest march and blocking a major highway near Daliyat al-Karmel.
More than one community member quoted by the Walla news site said that if Fero’s body isn’t returned soon, they may try to enter Jenin and retrieve him themselves.
The mayor of Daliyat al-Karmel begged local youths not to take the law into their own hands and try to retrieve the body.
“Do not reach Jenin checkpoint or Jenin city,” Rafik Halavi said in a video message posted on social media. “This can complicate things and change the equation.”
Videos posted online showed hundreds of people marching through Daliyat al-Karmel holding a Druze flag and chanting. Other posts showed protesters holding a photo of Fero and his image is displayed on a digital billboard in the center of the city.
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Fero’s friends called on the entire Druze community of Israel to join them in protesting, Channel 12 reported.
One of the protesters said, “This is the first step. We are going to turn the country upside down.”
While initial reports from the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian media indicated that Fero had already died when he was snatched by unidentified gunmen, his uncle’s comments Wednesday morning suggested otherwise.
“They were firing into the air and shouting in Arabic… no one dared to stop them,” Edri Fero told Kan. “They disconnected him from the machines and threw him into a car.”
Edri said Tiran had “traveled to Jenin to fix his car with a friend”, and was involved in a car accident, adding that “he must have lost control of the vehicle on the way”.
Several Palestinian sources have indicated that Tiran’s body is being held in the Jenin refugee camp. Palestinians have set up barricades around the city in anticipation of an IDF raid.
On Wednesday morning, COGAT, the army’s liaison with the Palestinians, announced that the northern West Bank checkpoints at Jalamah and Salem would be closed until further notice following the incident.
The checkpoints are mainly used by Arab Israelis traveling for business or leisure to the Palestinian city of Jenin and the surrounding area, and Palestinians traveling to Israel for work. The closure is expected to take an economic toll on the Jenin area, which has already been at the center of a months-long Israeli counter-terror offensive.
Just before midnight on Wednesday evening, COGAT said that the Jalamah and Salem border crossings would also be closed for the transshipment of goods from Thursday morning. COGAT’s statement added that the Israel Security Institute “demands that the Palestinian Authority return the body of the Israeli youth to its family in Israel.”
AFP and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.