Israeli forces kill 3 Palestinians in West Bank after attacks escalate

JERUSALEM — Israeli security forces said they killed three Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank early Saturday morning as they continued to expand operations in response to a spate of terrorist attacks in Israel.

Israel Police said in a statement that the militants were intercepted while driving through the northern West Bank after authorities received a tip that they were about to carry out an attack. The three men were killed in a subsequent shootout that also wounded four Israeli soldiers, police said.

The episode brings the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli military operations in the West Bank this week to at least six. Three others were killed Thursday morning in an Israeli raid in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank, Palestinian health officials said.

Israeli security forces have increased their presence across Israel and the occupied territories since a Palestinian gunman killed five people in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel, on Tuesday. This was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks in Israel that have killed 11 people since March 22.

The army has sent several additional battalions to the West Bank, called up reservists and posted reinforcements along the Israel-Gaza border. Police said they focused almost exclusively on counter-terrorism operations while increasing their presence on the streets.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also urged Israeli civilians with licensed firearms to carry their guns in public.

The measures reflect a heightened sense of concern in Israel following three unusually brazen and deadly attacks in three Israeli cities that have rarely been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, before the attack in Bnei Brak, an Arab citizen of Israel stabbed three people and rammed his vehicle into another in Beersheba, a quiet town in southern Israel, killing all four. Days later, two other Arab citizens of Israel shot dead two police officers in Hadera, a city on the Mediterranean coast. Unusually, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for this attack.

Officials and analysts fear violence could escalate in the coming weeks as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday, overlaps with Passover and Easter for the first time in several years.

The festivals are expected to heighten tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City, where access to and control of a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims the Noble Sanctuary — has been blocked since long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, warned in a statement Friday night that Israel would face “consequences” if it allowed Israeli troops or Jewish worshipers to enter the Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount. It was not specified what the consequences would be.

Tensions around the mosque – coupled with Israeli efforts to evict Palestinians from a strategically important area of ​​the city – prompted Hamas to fire multiple rockets from Gaza into Jerusalem in May, sparking an 11-day war. But Israeli officials believe that Hamas is most likely cautious about organizing attacks directly from Gaza because the group does not want to risk further escalation in Gaza so soon after the last war.

In a sign of de-escalation, Palestinian political groups in Gaza on Wednesday decided not to mark the Landtag, a key anniversary in the Palestinian calendar, with a protest near the Gaza-Israel border. Instead, they gathered on the shore to reduce the risk of a confrontation with Israeli border guards.

Friday night and Saturday morning prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque also passed without incident.

Iyad Abuheweila contributed to the coverage from Gaza City.

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