Israeli troops kill 5 Palestinians in West Bank gun battles
Palestinian health officials say the Palestinians were killed in shootouts with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank
Israeli troops conducted a series of arrest raids against suspected Hamas militants across the occupied West Bank early on Sunday, sparking a pair of gun battles in which five Palestinians were killed and two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded.
It was the deadliest violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank in several weeks. The region has seen an increase in fighting in recent months, with tensions fuelled by Israeli settlement construction, heightened militant activity in the northern West Bank and the aftermath of a bloody war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip last May.
The Israeli military said it had been tracking the Hamas militants for several weeks and that the raids were launched in response to immediate threats.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the militants were about to carry out attacks “in real time”. He praised the Israeli forces, saying they acted “as expected. They engaged the enemy and we back them completely”.
In a statement, the military said it launched five simultaneous raids and soldiers opened fire after being shot at in two locations. It said five militants were killed and several others were arrested.
It also said an officer and a soldier were seriously injured, possibly inadvertently by Israeli fire.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said two Palestinians were shot dead near the northern West Bank city of Jenin and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem.
Hamas confirmed that four of the dead, including all three killed in Biddu, were members of the group. Palestinian officials said a 16-year-old boy was also among the dead, though it was not immediately known if he was a militant.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers semi-autonomous areas in the West Bank, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed by the occupation forces”.
But Hamas also criticised the Palestinian Authority, which maintains security coordination with Israel in a shared struggle against the group.
Hamas spokesman Abdulatif Al Qanou said that recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “encouraged the occupation again to pursue the resistance”.
Also on Sunday, Israel released Khalida Jarrar, a prominent Palestinian lawmaker, after nearly two years in prison. Jarrar, a senior figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has been in and out of Israeli prisons for years — often without being charged.
The PFLP has an armed wing and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, but Jarrar has not been implicated in attacks. She was sentenced to two years in prison in March for membership in a banned group but given credit for time already served. She was freed several weeks before her sentence was to end.
Recent months have seen a rise in violence in the West Bank, with more than two dozen Palestinians killed in sporadic clashes with Israeli troops and during protests.
Many of the clashes have occurred near Beita, a Palestinian village where residents regularly demonstrate against an unauthorised settlement outpost, and near Jenin, which is known as a militant stronghold.
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