Israeli security forces killed three Islamic Jihad militants when they came under fire Saturday during a raid in the West Bank, police said, the latest deaths in a surge of violence.
The bloodshed comes amid heightened tensions ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and spiralling violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Last year during Ramadan, clashes that flared between Israeli forces and Palestinians visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem led to 11 days of devastating conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
On Saturday, Israeli police said security forces killed three members of the Islamic Jihad militant group who had opened fire during an operation to arrest them near the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, the police said.
The Israeli forces had intercepted “a terrorist cell on its way to an attack, and stopped the car in which they were travelling between Jenin and Tulkarem”, the police said.
Later on Saturday, the army announced that a “final terrorist connected to the terrorist cell that was thwarted overnight has been apprehended”.
“It was estimated that the final wanted suspect was going to attempt to carry out an additional terror attack” before being caught, it added.
Firearms and explosives were found in the car, police said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said security forces had “foiled a ticking bomb”.
“We are certainly assuming that there will be many more attempts and we are currently working to thwart them,” he said in a statement.
The Gaza-based Islamic Jihad confirmed the “death of our three hero fighters”, identifying them as Saeb Abahra, Khalil Tawalbeh and Seif Abu Labdeh.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh denounced an “extrajudicial killing” and a “horrible crime”.
Israeli leaders “must stop committing crimes and violations against our Palestinian people, respond to their legitimate rights to freedom and independence, end the occupation and establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital”, he said, quoted by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned in a tweet that the security forces would “act forcefully against any attempted attack” on Israeli citizens.
Saturday’s clash is the latest in a spate of bloody violence in Israel and the West Bank since March 22.
Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man Friday during confrontations in the West Bank city of Hebron, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Wafa identified him as Ahmad al-Atrash, saying he was taking part in a protest against Israeli settlements and had previously served six years in an Israeli prison.
Israel’s army said that during a “riot” in Hebron “a suspect hurled a Molotov cocktail” at soldiers who “responded with live fire”.
Hebron, the biggest city in the West Bank, is home to about 1,000 Jewish settlers living under heavy Israeli military protection, among more than 200,000 Palestinians.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 70 people were wounded in Friday’s clashes with the Israeli army in the Nablus area of the northern West Bank.
On Thursday, Israeli security forces raided Jenin after three fatal attacks rocked the Jewish state, leading to clashes in which two Palestinians were killed, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
A Palestinian man who stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli civilian with a screwdriver was also shot dead Thursday south of the city of Bethlehem.
It followed an attack on Tuesday night in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox Jewish city near Tel Aviv where a Palestinian with an assault rifle killed two Israeli civilians, two Ukrainian nationals and an Arab-Israeli policeman.
A total of 11 people have been killed in attacks in Israel since March 22, including some carried out by assailants linked to or inspired by the Islamic State group.
Over the same period, eight Palestinians have been killed, according to an AFP tally, including two assailants in anti-Israeli attacks and six people the Israelis said had carried out attacks or were about to do so.