JERUSALEM (HPD) — Two Palestinians were killed and a third wounded by Israeli army fire in the occupied West Bank early Friday, Palestinian health officials said amid conflicting reports of the incident.
The shooting near Nablus, the West Bank’s second-largest city, is the latest sign of escalating tensions in the region in recent months.
According to the Israeli army, its troops at a military post south of Nablus opened fire after being shot at by a passing car. Troops identified two suspicious vehicles and responded with live ammunition, he added, reporting “hits.” The army did not specify whether by this it meant that the occupants of the cars were killed or wounded.
An armed group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, described the incident as an attack and said its fighters were involved, but gave no further details. The militia is an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. For his part, the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammed Ishtayyeh, stated that two men were killed in cold blood, but provided no evidence.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health identified the victims as two men from the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, aged 47 and 35. Ishtayyeh said they worked for Civil Protection, a Palestinian autonomous government department that includes firefighters and other emergency personnel.
The incident came three days after Israeli forces stormed the stronghold of a small armed group in Nablus, where they destroyed a bomb laboratory and engaged in a firefight. Five Palestinians were killed in that operation, including the leader of the militia that calls itself the Lions’ Den.
The ongoing Israeli raids in the West Bank pose a serious challenge to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which relies on security cooperation with Israel, especially against rival Islamist insurgency, to stay in power. At the same time, such collaboration is deeply unpopular with Palestinians who complain of a 56-year Israeli occupation,
Young Palestinians are especially disillusioned. Small gangs of gunmen have formed in some areas, first in the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold of the insurgency, and now in Nablus. These groups defy the Palestinian Authorities and carry out attacks against Israeli forces.
More than 125 Palestinians have claimed their lives in clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far this year. The clashes began after a series of Palestinian attacks that left 19 dead in Israel during the spring. According to the army, most of the Palestinians killed were insurgents, but the victims include youths protesting the raids and other civilians.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, as well as East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians want the three territories to form their long-awaited independent state.