Three killed in Israel West Bank drone strike as violence escalates

Israel’s military on Wednesday killed three members of a “terrorist cell” in a rare West Bank drone strike, the army said, as violence there escalates with at least 13 Palestinians and four Israelis dead this week.

The army announced the strike after a Palestinian man was killed earlier Wednesday in an occupied West Bank village attacked by hundreds of Israelis.

Intelligence led Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel to identify the cell “inside a suspicious vehicle, after the cell carried out a shooting adjacent to the town of Jalamah”, near Jenin in the northern West Bank, an army statement said.

“Following the identification of the terrorist cell, an IDF UAV fired toward the cell and thwarted them,” it added referring to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

The strike is the first in the West Bank by the Israelis since August 2006, a Palestinian intelligence source told AFP. Previously, the source said it was the first since 2005 before reporting two militants had been killed in a strike in 2006.

Kamal Abu al-Roub, deputy Jenin governor, said there were “three dismembered bodies inside” the car which he said had been hit by missiles. Roub cited information from firefighters sent to extinguish the blaze which engulfed the vehicle.

Earlier, residents of Turmus Ayya put the number of Israeli settlers involved in the attack on their village at between 200 and 300, while AFP journalists saw scorched homes, buildings and wounded people being evacuated by ambulance.

The reprisals came hours after mourners held a funeral for a teenager killed in a Palestinian shooting targeting Israelis nearby.

“Settlers shot at us and when the police and the Israeli army arrived they shot at us with rubber bullets and fired tear gas,” resident Awad Abu Samra told AFP.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967. Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, the territory is now home to around 490,000 Israelis who live in settlements considered illegal under international law.

Lafi Adeeb, Turmus Ayya mayor, told AFP that 35 houses were damaged, around 50 cars torched and farmland set ablaze.

A Palestinian health ministry statement said a deceased person arrived “at the Palestine Medical Complex from Turmus Ayya after being shot in the chest”.

The Israeli military said security forces entered Turmus Ayya “to extinguish the fires, prevent clashes and to collect evidence” after “Israeli civilians burned vehicles and possessions belonging to Palestinians”.

While protecting the firefighters, Israeli police became “the target of violence by dozens of Palestinians”, a police statement said. A shot was fired in their direction, and an officer returned fire “towards a rioter suspected of shooting at him,” the police said.

– ‘Praying’ –

“I saw a bunch of guys in masks trying to throw rocks at our house,” Mohammed Zakaraia Abdulla, 18, a Palestinian-American visiting from Chicago, told AFP.

“We locked all the doors. We ran downstairs. We hid… praying that we’d come out safe.” One of his relatives was shot dead during the attack, he said.

After the unrest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “All citizens of Israel are obligated to obey the law,” and “we will not allow” disturbances in the territory.

The violence followed the funeral in the neighbouring Israeli settlement of Shilo of 17-year-old Nahman Mordof.

The teenager was one of four Israelis killed Tuesday when Palestinian gunmen attacked a petrol station adjacent to Eli settlement before being shot dead.

In Jenin, a Palestinian teenage girl was also laid to rest. Girls in school uniform carried the body of their classmate killed in an Israeli army raid in the city on Monday.

Sadil Naghnaghiya, 15, died from gunshot wounds suffered during the hours-long Israeli incursion, the Palestinian health ministry said on Wednesday.

Six other Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy and a militant, were killed in the raid.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the government would fast-track settlement expansion at Eli in response to the Tuesday’s attack against Israelis.

– US concern –

“Our answer to terrorism is to strike at it forcefully and build up our country,” he said, after repeated calls by the United Nations for Israel to halt settlement construction.

Israeli anti-settlement organisation Peace Now said Netanyahu’s announcement was intended “to appease fervent and fanatic settlers”.

A US State Department spokesman said Washington is “deeply concerned” by rising violence in the West Bank, and that the reports of an attack by Israelis on a Palestinian village Wednesday were “troubling”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in neighbouring Jordan condemned “in the strongest terms the attacks of Israeli settlers on a number of villages in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

Sinan al-Majali, the ministry spokesman, said in a statement that “unilateral measures” including settlement expansion undermine foundations for peace.

Aside from Turmus Ayya, on Tuesday reprisal attacks were reported in other Palestinian towns.

The surge in violence linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far this year has killed at least 174 Palestinians, 25 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian.

The tally compiled from official sources includes combatants as well as civilians and, on the Israeli side, three members of the Arab minority.

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