RAMALLAH: Israeli troops killed at least four Hamas soldiers in gun battles during raids today against one of the group’s cells in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli military spokesman said.
Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, intends to gain strength in the West Bank and challenge its rival there, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), heightening security risks for Israel.
The incidents in the early hours today marked the most serious confrontations between Israel and Hamas in the West Bank in months and threatened to raise tensions in the territory and along the Israeli border with Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party lost control of Gaza to Hamas in internal fighting in 2007, accused Israel in a statement of “field executions against our people”.
Hamas called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to escalate resistance against the occupier in all areas” in the wake of the raids. A Hamas spokesman said all the men were members of the group, which Israel and the West regard as a terrorist organisation.
Four others were arrested, the spokesperson said.
The Palestinian health ministry said four Palestinians had been killed in two shootouts in the central and northern West Bank.
He said the Israeli forces had “engaged the enemy, and we back them completely”.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in a 1967 war. It withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The PA, which seeks a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, exercises limited self-rule in the territory under interim peace deals with Israel.