Israeli forces kill 6 Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza
In a deadly spurt of violence, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces Saturday, three of them suspects in the slaying of an Israeli West Bank settler two days earlier.
The bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, after a relative lull in violence since spring, marked a setback for U.S. and international efforts to restart peace talks that collapsed a year ago.
Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus during an early-morning raid Saturday. Israeli officials accused the men, who they said were affiliated with a militant faction of the Palestinian political party Fatah, of having carried out a roadside ambush Thursday that killed Israeli settler Meir Avshalom Hai.
Hai, 40, died when assailants opened fire on his car as he drove near his home in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron. Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the shooting.
Tensions in the West Bank have been rising since the Israeli government, under pressure from the U.S., announced that it would limit new settlement construction.
Palestinians, who want a total halt in construction, have dismissed the 10-month freeze as inadequate. The concession angered Israeli settlers, some of whom vowed to take out their frustration on Palestinians. Two weeks ago, assailants -- believed to be members of a Jewish extremist settlers group -- vandalized a mosque south of Nablus, setting a fire that destroyed several Korans.
Israeli military officials said Saturday that at 4 a.m. troops had surrounded the homes of the three men suspected in the Hai shooting. They said the men ignored calls to surrender.
“The Israel Defense Forces were forced to storm the buildings,” said Maj. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.
Subsequent searches found that the men were armed, though none fired their weapons at Israeli security forces during the raid, Lerner said.
Witnesses and family members, including a wife who was shot during the assault, said the men were not given a chance to surrender and that Israeli soldiers shot them even after they were lying on the ground.
The men were identified as Anan Sabah, 33, Raed Sarakji, 38, and Ghassan Abu Sharkh, 35.
Lerner denied that excessive force was used.
The raid delivered a blow to the fragile security agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank.
“This operation is a serious escalation aimed at undermining the security and stability the [Palestinian Authority] has recently restored to the city,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in a statement. “Israel’s goal behind these actions and aggression is to avoid implementation of its political and security requirements,” the statement said.
Lerner said Israeli forces did not coordinate with or inform Palestinian authorities before the raid because at least one of the suspects was an employee of Fatah. “It obviously raises question marks,” Lerner said.
At funerals Saturday for the West Bank men, Palestinians condemned the raids as “assassinations” and called for revenge against Israel, but many also voiced anger at their own leaders for failing to provide protection.
In a separate attack Saturday, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike near the heavily guarded northern border of Gaza.
Israeli officials said they believed the three youths killed were attempting to cross into Israel illegally.
Palestinian officials said the young men were collecting scrap metal and construction materials.
Special correspondents Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, and Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.