Israeli forces killed five Palestinian gunmen in a raid on a West Bank refugee camp on Monday, according to Israeli security officials. The raid, which the military said was meant to arrest suspects allegedly involved in a botched attack on Israelis, was likely to further exacerbate tensions in the region.
The Palestinian Health Ministry did not immediately confirm the deaths, saying only that three were injured, one of them critically.
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 government, its most right-wing ever, which has promised to take a tough stance against the Palestinians.
The military said it was operating to apprehend the suspects behind a failed shooting attack 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.
In Monday’s operation, the military said it was searching for the militant cell that it said had 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.
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. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the raid with the media.
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 last month 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 hourslong 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. Over the last year and a half of escalating raids, Jericho has remained a sort of sleepy desert town, spared much of the violence.
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. 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 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 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.