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Israel - Palestine tensions soar as 3 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in West Bank gun battle

Saturday marks the start of Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayer and religious devotion for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ramadan has often been a period of increased friction and confrontation

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Saturday, April 02, 2022, 10:57 AM IST

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's old city, on Friday, April 1, 2022 | AP
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's old city, on Friday, April 1, 2022 | AP
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Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militants in a firefight in the occupied West Bank early Saturday, police said, raising fears of further escalation of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli media said four members of a police counter-terrorism unit of the Israeli police were wounded, one of them seriously. The troops came under fire as they attempted to arrest suspected militants in the northern West Bank.

“This is a terrorist cell that has been involved in terrorist activity against security forces recently, and was apparently on its way to another attack,” the police statement said.

Tensions have soared in recent days after Palestinian assailants killed 11 Israelis in separate attacks across the country. Saturday marks the start of Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayer and religious devotion for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ramadan has often been a period of increased friction and confrontation.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian gunman shot dead five people in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak before he was killed by police. The shooting raised to 11 the number of people killed by Arab attackers in Israel within a week.

Israeli forces shot dead three Palestinians in West Bank clashes on Thursday and Friday and a Palestinian stabbed a passenger on an Israeli bus near a Jewish settlement and was shot dead by another passenger.

The security situation is escalating. While many of the recent attacks targeted police or military forces within Jerusalem's Old City, the most recent stabbing targeted an Israeli out for a jog in a popular neighborhood outside the Old City. Two of the three attacks in the past week targeted civilians.

Israel's security alert status has been raised to its highest level. That means police are much more visible on the streets, working longer shifts and focusing their presence on schools and popular gathering spots.

Troop presence in the West Bank hand around the Gaza strip has also increased, with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announcing they are adding 14 battalions and combat soldiers from special forces units. Soldiers who carry a certain class of weapon will also be required to take their weapons with them even while on leave, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

Palestinian militant groups have praised the attacks and called for further action, especially in reaction to raids in the West Bank and violence from Jewish settlers.

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, said in a statement: "The continuous crimes of the occupation portend a comprehensive explosion, which will be more powerful and more painful, in which our people will be involved in all parts of our occupied land."

Abu Hamza, the military spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, announced "the raising of full readiness among our fighters in all military formations."

The overlap of three major religious holidays over the next month -- Ramadan, Passover and Easter -- could heighten tensions further, exacerbating a potent mix of factors that could spark yet another cycle of violence.

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Published on: Saturday, April 02, 2022, 10:57 AM IST