JERUSALEM – Israeli security forces said they killed three Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank early Saturday, as they continued their operation in response to a wave of terrorist attacks in Israel.
Israeli police said in a statement that the militants were intercepted while driving through the northern West Bank after authorities received a notification that they were about to carry out an attack. Police said three people were killed in subsequent firing, in which four Israeli soldiers were also injured.
The episode brings the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli military operations in the West Bank this week to at least six. Palestinian health officials said three others were killed during an Israeli raid on Thursday morning in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank.
Israeli security forces have increased their presence in Israel and the occupied territories after a Palestinian gunman killed five people in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel, on Tuesday. It was the latest in terrorist attacks in Israel to have killed 11 people since March 22.
The military has sent several additional battalions to the West Bank, called reservists and deployed reinforcements along the border between Israel and Gaza. Police said they have focused almost exclusively on counter-insurgency operations, increasing their presence on the streets.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also called on Israeli citizens to carry their guns in public with licensed firearms.
The measures reflect a heightened sense of concern in Israel after three unusually brazen and deadly attacks on three Israeli cities, which have rarely been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last week, before the attack in Bani Brak, an Israeli Arab man stabbed three people and rammed another with his vehicle in a quiet town in southern Israel, Beersheba, killing all four. A few days later, two other Arab citizens of Israel shot and killed two policemen in Hadera, a city on the Mediterranean coast. Unusually, Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
Officials and analysts fear violence could escalate in the coming weeks, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday, will overlap with Passover and Easter for the first time in many years.
The festivities are expected to heighten tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City, where both Jews and Muslims have access to and control of the holy site – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Great Sanctuary – for a long time. Time is in the heart about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that dominates the Gaza Strip, warned in a statement Friday night that Israel would face “consequences” if it allowed Israeli soldiers or Jewish worshipers to enter the Aqsa Mosque compound on the top of Temple Mount. Will have. It did not specify what those results would be.
Tensions over the mosque – along with Israeli efforts to oust Palestinians from a strategic area of the city – as well as Hamas fired several rockets from Gaza toward Jerusalem in May, triggering an 11-day war. But Israeli officials believe Hamas is wary of conducting direct attacks from Gaza, as the group does not want to risk another full-scale escalation in Gaza immediately after the previous war.
In a sign of de-escalation, Palestinian political groups in Gaza on Wednesday decided against celebrating Land Day, a major anniversary in the Palestinian calendar, with protests near the border between Gaza and Israel. Instead they gathered on the coast, reducing the risk of a confrontation with the Israeli border guards.
Friday night and Saturday morning prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque also passed without incident.
Iyad Abuhawila contributed reporting from Gaza City.