Jenin, occupied West Bank – A commander of a Palestinian armed group has been killed by Israeli forces and his older brother arrested in an early morning raid, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Mustafa al-Kastoni was shot in the head, chest and stomach, the ministry said, and was pronounced dead at the government hospital in Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank.
The 32-year-old was one of the commanders of Fatah’s armed wing in Jenin, known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
A Palestinian woman who “supports medical professionals” was also shot in the chest and abdomen during the raid, the health ministry said.
Jenin’s deputy governor, Kamal Abu al-Rub, said she was in critical condition.
Al-Kastoni’s father, Akram, told Al Jazeera that Mustafa was wanted by Israeli authorities immediately after he was released from an Israeli jail six months ago.
“Special forces entered the city and arrested one of my sons. Mustafa was in our home,” he said.
The elder al-Kastoni had left the house at 5am to go to work in the industrial zone, and when he heard the sounds of bullets, he raced back to try to reach his home.
“I knew they were coming for Mustafa,” the 57-year-old said. “I couldn’t get to the house and saw a civilian car with Israeli soldiers and my other son Hani who they had arrested. The soldiers told me if I took a step further they would shoot me.”
According to the Israeli outlet Haaretz, a spokesperson for the Israeli military said its soldiers arrested a number of wanted Palestinians belonging to the Islamic Jihad group and returned fire after being shot at by armed fighters during the raid.
The spokesperson said Mustafa al-Kastoni shot at the forces and tried to escape during an attempt to arrest him. One Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by shrapnel and taken to the hospital.
But Basema Sabaaneh, Mustafa’s mother, said her son was unarmed and had called out that he would give himself up.
“I heard Mustafa, who was on the first floor, shouting to the soldiers that he’d surrender, and not to shoot because there are children in the building,” she told Al Jazeera, shaking her head emphatically.
Sabaaneh had been on the second floor of the family building, where she lived with her son Hani’s family.
“We heard banging noises [from the floor below], and the sound of dogs attacking him,” she said. “He screamed again that he would surrender, and then we heard bullets being fired.”
Muhammad Ajawi, who works at the Noor Bakery close to the al-Kastoni house in Jenin’s old city, said he and nine other workers were forced out of the bakery at gunpoint.
“At about 6am, Israeli special units surrounded the area,” he said. “They were in military uniforms but came in civilian cars. They made us stand by the bakery’s entrance.”
Ajawi said that the soldiers besieged the house but did not call on anyone to surrender, instead firing “randomly”.
“A quarter of an hour later, they brought two young men handcuffed and blindfolded, and sat them down with us,” Ajawi said. “They said to one of them, ‘We killed your brother, get in the car and don’t say a single word.’”
The soldiers then disappeared into the house for 10 minutes, then withdrew and blew up the house.
“We were only several metres away from the explosion, very close,” Ajawi said. “My legs were wounded, and the rest of the workers were injured by debris from the blast.”
The workers and Mustafa’s father went to search among the rubble for Mustafa, finding him after 15 minutes.
“His body was strewn with bullets,” Akram al-Kastoni said. “We pulled him out of the house and took him to the hospital, but he was gone.”
Videos circulated on social media show men pulling al-Kastoni’s lifeless body out of a window, where a crowd of men below were waiting with a stretcher.
Other images shared by Palestinian activists showed al-Kastoni as a young boy in the second Intifada 20 years ago, an Israeli Merkava battle tank behind him.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, in what the United Nations warned is the deadliest year for Palestinians since it began recording fatalities in 2006.
The occupied West Bank has been witnessing escalating violence due to the near-nightly raids by Israeli forces of Palestinian cities and towns, after the emergence of a growing movement of cross-factional armed fighters.
In a statement, the Jenin Battalion for the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing al-Quds Brigades said Israeli forces sent in reinforcements after its resistance fighters targeted them with bullets and explosives.
The battalion mourned al-Kastoni and said it “will remain, along with all the forces of resistance and free people, the spearhead in fighting the brutal occupation until victory or martyrdom”.
Palestinian political factions condemned the Israeli raid. The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said: “The aggression against the city of Jenin is part of the plan that targets the resistance in all Palestinian lands.”
Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanou said Palestinian resistance in the occupied West Bank is unified.
“Day after day, it leaves its mark, confirming its permanence and its continuous confrontation with the Israeli occupation,” he said.
“The assassination of the resistance fighter, Mustafa al-Kastoni, will not affect the unity or the resolve of the resistance fighters,” he added and called on the Palestinian Authority to stop all forms of security coordination with Israel.
Source : AL JAZEERA