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At least four Palestinian gunmen were killed in shootouts with Israeli security forces during an arrest operation in the West Bank that cracked down on the Islamic militant group Hamas on Sunday, the Israeli army said.

It was the deadliest violence between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks and came amid heightened tension following this year’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a Palestinian was shot dead near the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem. The Israeli army said an officer and a soldier suffered serious injuries during the arrest in Burqin, near Jenin, and were flown to a hospital for medical treatment.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that Israeli security forces in the West Bank acted against Hamas operatives “who were about to carry out terrorist attacks in the very immediate future.”

He said the soldiers in the field “acted as expected of them” and said his government gave them its full support.

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Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said that Israeli forces involved in a joint operation with the Shin Bet internal security agency and the border police were attacked while making arrests in the West Bank.

He said the goal was “to stop a cell of the Hamas terror organization that is operating in Judea and Samaria with the intention of carrying out terrorist attacks,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

He said that four Hamas agents were killed and several more were arrested in the nightly operation.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said 22-year-old Osama Soboh was killed during clashes surrounding an arrest in the northern West Bank village of Burqin near Jenin. There were no immediate details on the deaths in Biddu.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in Jerusalem, Sunday, September 19, 2021 (Associated Press).

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the dead as “heroic martyrs,” but did not say whether any were members of the militant group. He blamed their deaths on “continued coordination” between the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

Hamas spokesman Abdulatif al-Qanou blamed the rival Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy over areas of the West Bank, and said recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “again encouraged the occupation to persecute. the resistance”.

The Palestinian Authority, whose security forces are coordinating with Israel to suppress Hamas and other militant groups, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “wholly and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed by the occupying forces. “.

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Last month, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen during a nightly raid in Jenin, killing four Palestinians. 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.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and in the decades since has established dozens of settlements where nearly 500,000 settlers reside. Palestinians look to the West Bank as part of their future state and see the settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.

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