JERUSALEM – 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 Thursday.
The bloodshed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, following 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.
Saturday, Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus during an early-morning raid. 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 that killed Israeli settler Meir Avshalom Hai on Thursday.
Hai, 40, a father of seven, died when assailants opened fire on his car as he drove near his home in the Israeli settlement of Shavei Shomron in the West Bank. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the shooting.
Tensions in the West Bank have been rising in recent weeks after the Israeli government, under pressure from the U.S., announced it would limit new settlement construction.
Palestinians, who want a total halt in construction, have dismissed the 10-month freeze as inadequate, but it nevertheless has angered Israeli settlers, some of whom vowed to take out their frustration on Palestinians. Two weeks ago, assailants – believed to be from a Jewish extremist settlers group – vandalized a mosque south of Nablus, setting a fire that destroyed several Qurans.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, Israeli military officials said, troops surrounded the homes of the three men suspected in the Hai shooting. They said the men ignored calls to surrender.
“The Israeli defense forces were forced to storm the buildings,” said Maj. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.
Subsequent searches found that the men were armed, although none fired his weapon 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 Israeli soldiers shot the men even after they were lying on the ground.
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,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in a statement. He said, “Israel’s goal behind these actions and aggression is to avoid implementation of its political and security requirements.”
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 Strip.
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.