Israeli forces kill three Palestinians in West Bank

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians in West Bank

Israeli forces killed three Palestinian fighters overnight in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said on Monday, in what the army described as an operation to capture terrorist suspects.

In a statement, the Palestinian health ministry identified the three men killed in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus as Muhammad Abu Zaytoun, 32, Fathi Abu Rizk, 30, and Abdullah Abu Hamdan, 24.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party, said in a statement that the three were among the group's "fighters."

The Israeli army said it had shot several fighters when a gun battle erupted during a "counterterrorism" operation in which it arrested three individuals.

During the operation, "armed suspects fired at the soldiers, who responded with live fire. Hits were identified," it said.

The army added in a statement that it "apprehended three wanted individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity," and that weapons and ammunition were seized.

Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh described the killings as a "veritable massacre" and charged that repeated Israeli raids and attacks by settlers constituted a "major war crime and a collective punishment."

He said: US "silence" had emboldened Israelis to escalate attacks, calling on Washington to "immediately intervene to stop the Israeli madness that will drag the region toward explosion."

Escalating violence
Witnesses told AFP that Israeli forces raided several houses in the camp overnight in search of people wanted by the army.

Gunfire and loud explosions rocked the camp, the witnesses said, adding that a house was demolished.

The army meanwhile said it had "located in one of the residences an explosives manufacturing site" and detonated it.

The army also reported clashes in an operation in Jenin where it said suspects hurled explosive devices and fired at the soldiers, "who responded with live fire." It said that in two cases "a hit was identified."

Israeli forces arrested three suspects in Jenin and seven others in other parts of the West Bank, it added in a statement.

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Nearly three million Palestinians live there, along with about 490,000 Israelis in settlements considered to be illegal under international law.

The latest deaths come just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire after a five-day cross-border conflict between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group.

On Sunday night, an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded in a car-ramming attack in the northern West Bank town of Huwara near Nablus, the Israeli army said, adding that the vehicle sped away from the scene.

Since the start of the year, at least 153 Palestinians, 20 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian have been killed in violence linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources from both sides.

They include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, and on the Israeli side mostly civilians and three members of the Arab minority.