JERUSALEM – Israeli troops carried out a series of arrest raids against suspected Hamas militants across the occupied West Bank early on Sunday, triggering a pair of shootings in which five Palestinians were killed and two Israeli soldiers were seriously injured.
It is the deadliest violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank for several weeks. The region has seen increased fighting in recent months, with tensions fueled by Israeli settlement building, increased militant activity in the northern West Bank and the aftermath of a bloody war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last May.
The IDF said it had been hunting down Hamas militants for several weeks and that the raids were launched in response to immediate threats.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the militants were about to carry out “real time” attacks. He praised the Israeli forces, saying they had acted “as planned.” They have engaged the enemy and we fully support them.
In a statement, the military said it launched five simultaneous raids and the soldiers opened fire after being shot in two locations. He said five activists were killed and several others were arrested.
He also said that an officer and a soldier were seriously injured, possibly inadvertently by Israeli fire.
The Palestinian health ministry said two Palestinians were shot dead near the city of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem.
Hamas confirmed that four of the dead, including the three killed in Biddu, were members of the Islamic militant group. Palestinian officials said a 16-year-old boy was also among the dead, although it is not immediately known whether he was an activist.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers semi-autonomous areas in the West Bank, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed by the occupying forces.”
But Hamas also criticized the Palestinian Authority, which maintains security coordination with Israel in a common struggle against the Islamic group.
Hamas spokesman Abdulatif al-Qanou said recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “once again encouraged the occupation to continue resistance.”
Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip after seizing it from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, hailed those killed as “heroic martyrs.” He called on his supporters to “devise tactics and means that harm the enemy and exhaust him with all possible forms of resistance.”
Also on Sunday, Israel released Khalida Jarrar, a prominent Palestinian lawmaker, after nearly two years in prison. Jarrar, a senior official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has been in and out of Israeli prisons for years, often without being charged.
The PFLP has an armed wing and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, but Jarrar was not involved in the attacks. She was sentenced to two years in prison in March for belonging to a banned group, but given the time already served. She was released several weeks before the end of her sentence.
Recent months have seen an increase in violence in the West Bank, with more than two dozen Palestinians killed in sporadic clashes with Israeli troops and during protests.
Numerous clashes took place near Beita, a Palestinian village where residents regularly protest against an unauthorized settlement outpost, and near Jenin, known as a militant stronghold.
Last month, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen in a nighttime raid in Jenin, killing four Palestinians. Sunday’s clashes came a week after Israel recaptured the last of six Palestinian fugitives who tunneled out of an Israeli maximum security prison earlier this month. The escapees came from Jenin, and two of them were captured there after a thorough search.
Israel captured the West Bank in the Middle East War in 1967 and established dozens of settlements where nearly 500,000 settlers reside. The Palestinians want the West Bank to be part of their future state and see the settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.
Meanwhile, in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met officials from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Sunday evening to mark the first anniversary this month of Israel’s relations with the two Arab countries. The so-called Abraham Accords – signed under the Trump administration – led to the opening of embassies, the launch of direct flights, and a series of agreements to strengthen economic ties.
Speaking to Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and UAE Minister of State at Foreign Ministry Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, Bennett said he wanted to assure them of the continuity of the agreements since he replaced Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We believe in this relationship and we want to expand it as much as possible,” Bennett said.
The Israeli prime minister is due to address the annual meeting of world leaders of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday morning.
Associated Press editor Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.