Israeli soldiers shot dead three Palestinian fighters in a pre-dawn firefight in the occupied West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian sources said yesterday, amid a surge in violence in the region.
The Israeli army said “gunmen opened fire” at an army position near the Jit junction, west of Nablus in the northern West Bank, with the soldiers responding with “live fire”. A Nablus-based group said the Israeli troops had laid an ambush for them.
The Palestinian health ministry identified three men killed by Israeli gunfire near Nablus as Jihad al-Shami, 24, Uday al-Shami, 22, and Mohamed Dabeek, 18.
According to the army, the “three gunmen were neutralised during the exchange of fire and an additional armed gunman surrendered himself to the forces.”
It noted in a statement none of the Israeli forces were wounded in the clash. The Lions’ Den, an emerging Palestinian group that claims to rise above traditional factional loyalties and has been blamed for a number of recent attacks on Israeli targets, identified the three as members. A statement from the group said they had engaged in combat after identifying the Israeli ambush, vowing to revenge the “martyrs”.
Violence intensified last year, but has worsened in the West Bank — which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967 —after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December at the head of a hard-right coalition. Speaking ahead of his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu commended the Israeli forces who “operate around the clock against those seeking to kill us”. “The principle is simple —whoever tries to hurt us, or hurts us, will pay the price,” he said in televised remarks.
Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, said the deaths would “fuel the great West Bank intifada,” or uprising.
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