JERUSALEM — Three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank town of Jenin overnight Friday in clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian operatives affiliated with the Gaza-based militant group Hamas, the Israeli army said Saturday morning.
The latest escalation in violence comes as the U.S. is said to be attempting to impose a framework for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians following nine months of ongoing negotiations.
According to Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner clashes broke out as special military forces attempted to arrest 22-year old Hamza Abu Alhija, who was wanted by Israel for his involvement in a series of shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis.
Lerner said that Abu Alhija barricaded himself inside the safe house where he had been hiding, opening fire on Israeli security personnel, injuring two, and killing a military attack dog that was sent inside.
As Abu Alhija attempted to flee the house, Lerner said Israeli forces shot and killed him. Immediately following the incident, additional armed Palestinian operatives arrived opening fire on Israeli troops, who responded killing two more militants.
“This seemed a very coordinated operation,” said Lerner, adding that the Israeli military worked alone, not involving Palestinian Authority security personnel, who are responsible for policing the West Bank and who in recent months have also clashed with or arrested Hamas supporters there.
In response to the killings in Jenin, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed concern over the escalation in violence and called on the U.S. to bring calm.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the group that claimed responsibility for a massive rocket attack from Gaza against Israel a week-and-a-half ago, warned that they would respond to the killings of the three in Jenin.
The escalation in tension comes a week before Israel is slated to release the fourth and final batch of long-serving Palestinian security prisoners as part of the peace negotiations that started last July. On Tuesday, Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the talks from Israel’s side, indicated that Israel might not go ahead with the prisoner release if a broad framework deal is not reached by the end of this month.