JERUSALEM – (AP) – At least four Palestinian gunmen were killed in shootings with Israeli security forces during a massive West Bank arrest operation against Islamic militant group Hamas on Sunday, the IDF said.
It was the deadliest violence between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks and came amid heightened tensions following this year’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian health ministry said that a Palestinian was shot dead near the city of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem. The IDF said an officer and a soldier were seriously injured during the arrest in Burqin, near Jenin, and were airlifted to a hospital for treatment.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that Israeli security forces in the West Bank acted against members of Hamas “who were about to carry out terrorist attacks in the very immediate future.”
He said the soldiers on the ground “acted as expected” and said his government fully supported them.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, spokesperson for the IDF, said Israeli forces involved in a joint operation with the Shin Bet internal security agency and border police came under fire as they came under fire. were making arrests in the West Bank.
He said the aim was “to stop a cell of a Hamas terrorist organization operating in Judea and Samaria with the intention of carrying out terrorist attacks,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.
He said four Hamas operatives were killed and several others were arrested during the overnight operation.
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Osama Soboh, 22, was killed in clashes surrounding an arrest in the village of Burqin in the northern West Bank near Jenin. There were no immediate details of the deaths in Biddu.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, hailed those killed as “heroic martyrs,” but did not say whether any were members of the militant group. He blamed their deaths on “continued coordination” between the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Hamas spokesman Abdulatif al-Qanou blamed the rival Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy over areas of the West Bank, saying recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “have again encouraged the occupation to continue the resistance ”.
The Palestinian Authority, whose security forces are coordinating with Israel to suppress Hamas and other militant groups, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed. by the occupying forces ”.
Last month, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen in a nighttime raid in Jenin, killing four Palestinians. Recent months have seen an increase in violence in the West Bank, with more than two dozen Palestinians killed in sporadic clashes with Israeli troops and during protests.
Sunday’s clashes came a week after Israel recaptured the last of six Palestinian fugitives who had tunneled out of an Israeli maximum-security prison and had been on the run for more than a week. Several of the escapees were from Jenin, and two were captured there after a thorough search.
Israel captured the West Bank in the Middle East War in 1967 and over the decades that followed established dozens of settlements where nearly 500,000 settlers reside. The Palestinians want the West Bank to be part of their future state and see the settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.
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