Israeli forces killed at least four armed members of Islamic Jihad late Wednesday, Israeli military officials said, hours after a Palestinian man stabbed an ultra-Orthodox Jew to death in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The officials could not say whether the two incidents were connected. But they marked the first casualties since Israel finished evacuating more than 9,000 Jewish settlers from 25 settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank, a move many on both sides of the conflict hope will rejuvenate a moribund peace process.
"This is the worst fear that we have -- for Israelis to be killed and stabbed, Palestinians to be shot and killed in a return to the cycle of violence," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "We have been working on these issues to avoid just this sort of thing. What is happening now is very, very dangerous."
The violence came as government officials confirmed that Israel was proceeding with plans to complete the separation barrier around Maale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement a few miles east of Jerusalem. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday that the government had issued orders last week to seize land in the West Bank to complete roughly 10 miles of the wall along the southern border of Maale Adumim, where about 30,000 Israelis live.
The Israeli cabinet approved the wall's route in the area in February. But it remains one of the most contentious sections of the barrier, which was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague last year. The court's opinion was non-binding, and Israeli officials said it did not take into consideration the sharp reduction in suicide bomb attacks coinciding with the wall's construction.
The government also plans to add about 3,500 housing units to the settlement, eventually linking it with neighborhoods in East Jerusalem annexed by Israel following the 1967 Middle East war.
In the early evening, a Palestinian attacked two ultra-Orthodox Jews near the Jaffa Gate inside the walls of the Old City, Israeli police officials said. One of the men died and the other was wounded in a stabbing that set off a small, angry demonstration inside the city walls.
Later in Tulkarm, about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem, Israeli troops surrounded a private home at about midnight after receiving information that members of a Islamic Jihad cell were inside, army officials said.
Army officials said the soldiers arrived to arrest the men, who they said were connected to suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Netanya this year that killed 10 Israelis. The soldiers called on the men inside the house to surrender and fired a warning shot in the air, but the men shot at the troops, army officials said, and the soldiers returned fire.