JENIN, West Bank (AP) — Israeli troops killed four Palestinians in an early morning raid that was followed by a clash with angry protesters in a West Bank town on Saturday, the military and Palestinian security officials said, in the deadliest incident in months.
The violence came amid a recent spike in clashes in the West Bank that could complicate the already troubled peace efforts as the sides near an April deadline set under U.S.-sponsored talks.
Saturday’s incident started with an Israeli raid, which the military said aimed to arrest Hamza Abu el-Heija, a 22-year-old Hamas operative wanted for involvement in shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis.
Palestinians officials said the military ringed the house in the Jenin refugee camp overnight and ordered el-Heija outside. When he refused to come out, the soldiers stormed the building and a shootout ensued.
The military said the suspect opened fire first, wounding two Israelis, and then attempted to escape. The troops then opened fire and killed him.
Within minutes, hundreds of angry residents and gunmen gathered and attacked the soldiers. The troops opened fire and killed three Palestinians, the military said.
The Jenin refugee camp has been a flashpoint for violence in the past. During the Palestinian uprising last decade, the military launched a huge operation there to root out militants and dozens were killed.
Tensions have been heating up again in recent months with the perceived lack of progress in peace talks.
Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel and the Palestinians restarted negotiations last July, setting a nine-month target for wrapping up a comprehensive peace deal establishing a Palestinian state and ending a century of conflict.
After realizing this was unrealistic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry scaled back his ambitions and said he would aim for a “framework” peace deal by the April deadline.
With even that more modest goal in question, the sides are now searching for a formula that will allow the talks to continue.
The Palestinians have two demands for an extension of the talks: a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the release of the most senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Israel has indicated that it may not go forth with a planned prisoner release if the talks do not continue.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – territories captured by Israel in 1967 – for an independent state. They have demanded that Israel agree to base the final borders with a future Palestine on the pre-1967 lines, with small land swaps that would allow Israel to keep some of the Jewish settlements it has built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel refuses to commit to the 1967 borders ahead of time, saying these issues should be resolved in negotiations. It is demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and cease incitement against Israel.