Israeli forces kill three Palestinians in West Bank operations

Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in two separate incidents in the occupied West Bank Thursday, the Palestinian health ministry said, as the army reported opening fire on fleeing suspects and troops being pelted with rocks during raids.

The uptick in West Bank violence continued the trend of 2022, which was the deadliest since UN records began in 2005.

Fears of a military escalation in the territory have been sparked by the inauguration in late December of the most right-wing government in Israel's history, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinian health ministry said that Habib Kamil, 25, and Abdulhadi Nazal, 18, were killed by live Israeli bullets in the town of Qabatiya near the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

The Israeli army said that during a raid to arrest a suspect in Qabatiya, "the wanted suspect and an additional suspect fled the scene."

"The forces fired toward them. The wanted suspect was apprehended and a hit on the additional suspect was identified," the army said in a statement.

In an ensuing gunfight and clashes, Israeli soldiers shot two other Palestinians, the statement said.

The West Bank, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians. An estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers now also live in West Bank communities considered illegal under international law.

Earlier in the day, the Palestinian health ministry announced that 41-year-old Samir Aouni Harbi Aslan was killed "by a bullet of the Israeli occupation army" in Qalandia refugee camp, near Ramallah.

The Israeli military said troops had fired on people who "hurled rocks and blocks from the rooftops aiming at soldiers operating beneath".

Eighteen people were arrested in raids overnight Wednesday-Thursday across the West Bank, the Palestinian Prisoners' Club advocacy group said.

- 'Don't be afraid' -

Azzam Abdel Qader, who witnessed the raid, said Aslan was shot on the balcony of his home as his son was being detained.

"He shouted at the soldiers and said to his son: 'Don't be afraid'," Qader told AFP.

"After that, stones were being thrown at the occupation soldiers in the neighbourhood, so the soldiers started shooting randomly."

Mourners gathered in Qalandia for the funeral of Aslan, the third Palestinian killed in the West Bank in 24 hours.

The Qabatia deaths bring the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since the start of the year to nine.

On Wednesday, an Israeli civilian shot dead a 19-year-old Palestinian who had knifed an Israeli near a settlement in the southern West Bank.

The incident followed Israeli troops killing a Palestinian militant in a firefight during an incursion by the forces into the northern city of Nablus.

His funeral on Thursday drew hundreds of mourners, who gathered in the city hours after another incursion by Israeli forces.

Two Palestinian journalists were among those wounded during the raid.

The military said Israeli forces shot at people when the troops came under fire while arresting a Palestinian.

A surge in bloodshed last year saw at least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians killed across Israel and the West Bank, according to an AFP tally.

More than 150 of the fatalities were in the West Bank, according to United Nations figures.

After a series of attacks that began in March and targeted Israelis, the army stepped up raids in Jenin and Nablus, bastions of armed Palestinian factions in the West Bank.

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