06 February 2023

Israeli troops kill five Palestinian gunmen in West Bank raid – officials

06 February 2023

Israeli forces have killed five Palestinian gunmen in a raid on a West Bank refugee camp, security officials said.

The raid was in a response to a botched attack on Israelis, and is likely to further exacerbate tensions in the region.

The Palestinian president’s office called the violence a crime, urging the United States to pressure Israel to hold back on its incursions.

The Israeli military said the raid was meant to apprehend a militant cell that staged a botched shooting attack on a restaurant in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The violence comes amid one of the deadliest periods in recent years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the first weeks of Israel’s new right-wing government, which has promised to take a tough stance against the Palestinians.

The Israeli military said it was operating in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp to apprehend the suspects behind a failed shooting attack last month at a West Bank restaurant, where attackers allegedly were thwarted by a weapon malfunction.

The attackers then fled the scene, the military said, adding that they were members of the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and has elements in the West Bank as well.

The military said it was searching for the militant cell behind the shooting after it sealed itself inside a home in the refugee camp.

During the search, troops encountered the gunmen and a gun battle erupted.

The military said several of the gunmen who were killed were involved in the attempted attack on the restaurant.

A statement from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ office said: “The new Israeli government is continuing its series of crimes against our Palestinian people.”

The Israeli security officials said two of the five killed were Hamas militants involved in the attempted attack. The three others were gunmen who had exchanged fire with troops during the raid.

Hamas said it mourned the deaths of the members of its armed wing, without specifying how many had died. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the violence would be met with a response.

“Our people and their resistance will not delay in responding to this crime,” he said.

Speaking at an event at the site of a recent deadly Palestinian shooting attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed earlier reports by Israeli security officials that five gunmen were killed.

The raid comes days after an earlier incursion in the Aqabat Jabr camp, which is near the Palestinian city of Jericho, a desert oasis in an area of the West Bank that rarely sees such unrest, where troops were also searching for the suspects.

Since the shooting at the nearby settlement, the Israeli military has blocked access to several roads into Jericho – a closure that has placed the city under a semi-blockade, disrupting business and creating hours-long bottlenecks at checkpoints that affected even Palestinian security forces, footage showed.

Monday’s violence comes days after an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp killed 10 Palestinians, mostly militants but also a 61-year-old woman.

The next day, a Palestinian shooting attack outside an east Jerusalem synagogue killed seven people, including a 14-year-old.

The Israeli army has ramped up near-nightly raids in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel last spring.

The Palestinian Authority, in retaliation for last week’s raid into the Jenin refugee camp, declared a halt to security coordination with Israel.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Since the start of this year, 41 Palestinians have been killed in those territories. Some 30 people were killed in Israel by Palestinians in 2022.

The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting against the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.

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