Five Killed in West Bank Shootouts
JERUSALEM — Israeli forces killed five Palestinians in armed confrontations in the occupied West Bank early on Sunday, according to Israeli officials. They said the gun battles occurred during a series of raids intended to thwart a terrorist attack on Israeli civilians.
Two Israeli soldiers were also severely wounded in one of the shootouts. The military said it was investigating whether they were hurt by Israeli fire.
The military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that holds sway in the coastal territory of Gaza, claimed three of the dead as its members. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an extremist group backed by Iran, claimed a fourth as its “martyr.”
The raids took place simultaneously in the Jenin area in the northern West Bank and in a central area between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the overnight raids in five locations were carried out by an undercover army unit and special police counterterrorism forces. The armed men who were killed, and an additional four who were apprehended, were all part of a network that was planning terrorist attacks, he said.
Colonel Shefler did not elaborate on those plans, citing operational needs and restrictions. The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said on Sunday that the armed men “were about to carry out terrorist attacks in real time.”
“The soldiers and commanders in the field acted as expected; they engaged the enemy, and we back them completely,” Mr. Bennett added.
The office of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited control in parts of the West Bank, denounced what it called the “murder” and “field executions” of the Palestinians by Israeli security forces. Mr. Abbas, who is highly unpopular, has come under criticism of late from Hamas and other Palestinians for increasing engagement and security coordination with Israel’s new government.
Sunday’s events came four months after a fierce cross-border air war between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza, when Hamas, a chief rival of the Palestinian Authority and a sworn enemy of Israel, presented itself as the defender of the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Israeli raids also followed this month’s escape of six Palestinian inmates, most of them belonging to Islamic Jihad, from a maximum-security prison in northern Israel. Palestinians had celebrated the escape and were disappointed when the last two of the fugitives were captured a week ago in Jenin, their hometown.
The Hamas leadership in Gaza said in a statement on Sunday that “the blood of the martyrs will not be wasted.” Seeking further to destabilize the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, it called on “the masses of our Palestinian people in the valiant West Bank to escalate the resistance against the occupier at all points of contact.”
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, told public radio that because of Hamas’s losses and its desire to create linkages between the West Bank and Gaza, Israel was preparing for possible rocket fire from the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
The Israeli military said the raids took place in Jenin, Kufr Dan, Qabatiya and Burqin in the northern West Bank and in the village of Bidu, northwest of Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad claimed Osama Yasir Soboh, who was killed in a shootout in Burqin, as one of its members. That is where the two Israeli soldiers were injured. Palestinian Authority officials identified the second Palestinian killed in the confrontation in Burqin as Yusuf Soboh, 16.
The three claimed by Hamas were killed in what the military described as a firefight with special police counterterrorism forces in Bidu.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza.