Israeli forces kill three Palestinians in West Bank
Israeli forces killed three Palestinian fighters Monday in a raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank in what the army described as an operation targeting "terrorist" suspects.
In a statement, the Palestinian health ministry identified the three men killed in Balata 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 group's emblem was wrapped around the foreheads of the men in a morgue, and their bodies shrouded in the Palestinian flag.
The Israeli army said it had shot several fighters when a gun battle erupted during a "counterterrorism" operation.
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 "silence" from the United States had emboldened Israelis to escalate attacks, calling on Washington to "immediately intervene to stop the Israeli madness that will drag the region toward explosion".
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and its forces regularly launch incursions into Palestinian cities, which are nominally under the control of Abbas's Palestinian Authority.
Deadly military operations have surged in recent months across the Palestinian territory.
- Escalating violence -
Muhammad Zuhd, an activists from the camp, said "violent clashes took place between resistance fighters and the Israeli army" after hundreds of soldiers entered Balata.
Mourners, some of them armed, gathered in the streets as the men's bodies were carried in a funeral procession.
Samer Thouqan, from Fatah, said residents "were surprised by an extreme, barbaric attack".
"They (Israeli troops) started shooting from all sides and destroyed many homes in this camp," he said.
Following the raid, Palestinians inspected the rubble of a damaged building and salvaged belongings.
Israel's army, meanwhile, said it had "located in one of the residences an explosives manufacturing site" and detonated it.
The Hamas militant group, which rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, described those killed as "freedom fighters".
"Hamas reiterates that resisting the (Israeli) occupation is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people in their quest for freedom," the group said in a statement.
Densely-populated Balata is home to some 27,000 people, making it the largest camp in the West Bank, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
The Israeli army also reported clashes in an operation in Jenin, north of Nablus, where it said suspects hurled explosive devices and fired at the soldiers.
The troops "responded with live fire" and in two cases "a hit was identified", the statement said.
Israeli forces arrested three suspects in Jenin and seven others in other parts of the West Bank, it added.
The latest raids come just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire after a five-day cross-border conflict between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group.
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.