JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli forces on Wednesday shot and killed three Palestinians, including a teenage boy, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Israeli troops continued a days-long operation in the occupied West Bank in response to a spate of deadly attacks.
The three deaths, all in separate incidents, were the latest in a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has erupted as Muslims mark the holy month of Ramadan.
In two cases, the Israeli military said its troops fired at suspects who threw firebombs at soldiers during West Bank operations.
But Palestinian officials said one of the two, lawyer Mohammed Assaf, 34, just happened to inadvertently drive into a battle zone in the northern West Bank town of Beita.
The other was a 14-year-old, killed by Israeli army fire in Husan, a village near Bethlehem, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The teen’s death is likely to draw international criticism of Israeli military tactics. Earlier this week, the fatal shooting of an unarmed Palestinian woman drew accusations from European officials that the military was using excessive force.
Murad Shtaiwe, a Fatah party spokesman, said Assaf, the lawyer, was driving relatives to school. They passed through an area where clashes were taking place and Assaf was fatally shot, Shtaiwe said.
“What happened today is a new crime,” he said.
Also, the Israeli police said that in a joint security operation with the army and Shin Bet intelligence agency, troops arrested four suspects in the town of Silwad, near Ramallah. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 20-year-old Omar Muhammad Alyan was killed after he was shot in the chest during the Israeli arrest raid.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 18 others were injured as a result of the Israeli military’s activities. The military said one soldier was lightly wounded in the clashes and that it arrested 15 people in its raids Wednesday.
Israel has sent troops to comb through Palestinians cities and villages in recent days, looking for suspects or accomplices tied to recent Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Last week, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a packed Tel Aviv bar, killing three and fleeing the scene, sparking an hours-long manhunt that culminated in his killing by police.
That assault, as well as three other attacks elsewhere in Israel in recent weeks, have killed 14 people, the deadliest outburst of bloodshed against Israelis in years.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office accused Israel of destabilizing the West Bank, saying the situation “has become dangerous and sensitive and is rapidly deteriorating.”
On Wednesday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the Arab state strongly condemned Israel’s West Bank operations and what he called excessive force against Palestinians. Hafez urged in a statement for “containing such growing and accelerating developments,” which could lead to further escalation and mutual violence.
The tensions have escalated as Muslims mark Ramadan, which this year converges with major Jewish and Christian holidays. In the coming week as Passover and Easter commence, tens of thousands from the three faiths are expected to stream into Jerusalem’s Old City, the emotional heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a frequent flashpoint for violence.
Unrest in Jerusalem during last year’s Ramadan escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militant groups called on Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Israel to camp out at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque this weekend.
After a meeting with Hamas’s Gaza leader Yehiyeh Sinwar, the factions called for mass protests to break the Israeli restrictions recently imposed on the city of Jenin and said militants in Gaza were on alert “and ready to take the necessary decisions to protect our land, people, and holy sites.”
Israel’s government has sought to lower the flames by moving ahead on its plan to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the holy month. But, with two of the attackers in the recent violence from Jenin and the surrounding area, Israel has tightened restrictions on movement in and out of the city.
Jenin is considered a stronghold of Palestinian militants. Israeli forces often come under fire when operating in the area. Even the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security matters, appears to have little control.
Israel had made numerous arrests in recent days, and in some cases, Palestinians have protested against the raids. Several Palestinians have been killed in the raids or in response to attacks or attempted attacks.
Late Saturday, Palestinian protesters set fire to a West Bank shrine revered by Jews and smashed part of the the tomb inside. On Wednesday, Israel carried out repairs to the site, known to Jews as Joseph’s Tomb, and a day earlier the military said it arrested a suspect linked to the arson. The military said clashes also broke out nearby as the repairs were underway.
Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.