Druze seethe, threaten to storm Jenin amid talks over return of kidnapped teenager’s body

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Negotiations to return the body of an 18-year-old Israeli captured by terrorists from a West Bank hospital was underway late Wednesday night, but with no deal apparently imminent, some members of the Druze community vowed to act themselves.

Tiran Fero, from the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel, was critically injured in a car accident in Jenin and taken to a hospital in the Palestinian town due to his serious condition. His family claims it Palestinian gunmen detached him from life support and grabbed him from the hospital, while initial reports indicated he was already dead when taken.

Unnamed security officials have said the suspects are demanding the release of Palestinians jailed by Israel or the bodies of dead Palestinian terrorists held by Israel in exchange for Fero, who was a high school senior.

Various Israeli media reports on Wednesday evening indicated that intensive negotiations are underway to secure the release of Fero’s body, involving those in the highest levels of government and the security establishment in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Wednesday that “if Tiran’s body is not returned, the kidnappers will pay a heavy price.”

The 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 deal.

Tyrant Fero. (Courtesy)

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that the suspects grabbed Fero thinking he was an undercover Israeli soldier.

Former 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 held non-stop throughout the day to secure Fero’s return.

Tarif said he contacted Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh personally about the issue and that the most senior PA officials are involved: “This issue has even reached the head of Islamic Jihad in Beirut,” Tarif claimed.

Hadash-Ta’al chief MK Ayman Odeh was quoted by Ynet on Wednesday evening as saying that he was also involved in the talks and that “there are signs [Fero] may be released tonight.”

Anger over the lynching among Druze Israelis intensified on Wednesday evening, when thousands took part in a protest march and blocked a major highway near Daliyat al-Karmel.

More than one community member quoted by the Walla news site said that if Fero’s body was not returned soon, they may try to enter Jenin and retrieve him themselves.

The mayor of Daliyat al-Karmel pleaded with local youths not to take the law into their own hands and try to retrieve the body.

“Do not reach the Jenin checkpoint or the city of Jenin,” Rafik Halavi said in a video message posted to social media. “This could complicate matters and change the equation.”

Videos posted online showed hundreds marching through Daliyat al-Karmel with a Druze flag and chanting. Other posts showed protesters with a photo of Fero and his picture is displayed on a digital billboard in the center of the city.

Fero’s friends called on Israel’s entire Druze community to join them in protest, Channel 12 reported.

One of the protesters said: “This is the first step. We are going to turn the countryside upside down.”

While initial reports from the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian media indicated that Fero was already dead when he was grabbed by unidentified gunmen, comments from his uncle on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise.

“They were shooting in 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 gone to Jenin to repair 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 there.”

A deserted street in the West Bank city of Jenin, early on November 23, 2022. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

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 military’s liaison to the Palestinians, announced that the Jalamah and Salem checkpoints in the northern West Bank would be closed until further notice following the incident.

The checkpoints are predominantly used by Arab Israelis traveling to the Palestinian city of Jenin and the surrounding area for business or leisure, and by Palestinians traveling to Israel for work. The closure is expected to take an economic toll on the Jenin area, which was already the focus of a months-long Israeli anti-terror offensive.

Just before midnight on Wednesday night, COGAT said the Jalamah and Salem crossings would also be closed for the transfer of goods from Thursday morning. The statement from COGAT added that the Israeli security establishment “demands that the Palestinian Authority return the body of the Israeli youth to his family in Israel.”

AFP and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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