Three Palestinian militants were killed in a shootout with Israeli troops yesterday, the latest deaths in a surge of Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli security forces said they entered the village of Jaba in the northern West Bank to arrest suspects wanted for attacks on Israeli soldiers in the area. The suspects opened fire on Israeli troops, who shot back and killed three people, all affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, police said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the men as Sufyan Fakhoury (26), Nayef Malaisha (25) and Ahmed Fashafsha (22) and said they were shot by Israeli fire during the military operation. It said a fourth man was hospitalised with a bullet wound to the head and was in stable condition.
Israeli police released a photo of assault rifles, pistols, ammunition and explosive devices they said troops confiscated in Jaba, just south of the flashpoint city of Jenin.
The militant group said the men had shot at Israeli forces from their car. Residents gathered around and inspected the smashed sedan, its seats covered with blood.
Jaba’s city centre already displays a car left charred from an earlier Israeli military raid this year that killed two other militants from the village.
The Jaba militant group, a fledgling militia of disillusioned young Palestinians who have taken up guns against Israel’s occupation, said it opened fire and hurled explosive devices at Israeli forces. Residents said Israeli troops killed three members of the group who had been incarcerated by Israel and had carried out a recent shooting attack at a nearby checkpoint.
Gaza-based Islamic Jihad issued a veiled threat after the raid, saying its fighters would “respond to deter the enemy and avenge the blood of the martyrs”.
The militant group claimed gunmen shot down an Israeli drone during clashes with the army. The Israeli military confirmed a drone was downed and said it was investigating the incident.
The Jaba armed group includes gunmen from various factions, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the armed offshoot of the nationalist Fatah party. Militants in the village say Islamic Jihad supports the group and provides members with weapons.
It is part of a larger trend of emerging armed groups across the West Bank that have been mounting attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians and opening fire during Israeli raids on their towns, defying the increasingly unpopular Palestinian Authority (PA).
In areas of the northern West Bank where much of the fighting has been focused, the PA’s control is receding as young Palestinians’ hopes for statehood dim.
The streets of Jaba teemed with young people in black chanting against the Israeli occupation and firing into the air as they held the bodies of militants aloft. Yousef Hammour, a 28-year-old in the funeral procession, said Palestinian rage at Israel has intensified with the stepped-up arrest raids.
“Everyone’s in shock, everyone’s angry,” he said. “Every single day they’re killing more and more of us. If they attack us, we’ll attack them.”
The killings came as Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told Israeli leaders to take steps to reduce tensions in the occupied West Bank, amid growing worry in Washington that the situation could distract the allies from their effort to counter Iran.
Mr Austin, who is on a regional tour, landed in Ben Gurion Airport for a visit that had been hastily rescheduled because of a surge in street protests against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.
The US is Israel’s closest ally, and both countries are increasingly concerned about Iranian military activities in the region.