By Ali Sawafta
JERICHO, West Bank, Feb 6 (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters on Monday during a raid on a refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Jericho aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, the Israeli military said in a statement.
Five people were killed, governor of Jericho Jihad Abu al-Assal said, in the raid in Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in southern Jericho and eight were arrested, according to a statement published by official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded, one critically, but gave no details on any dead.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, appeared to confirm some fatalities in a statement praising the gunmen as “martyred heroes”.
The raid came during a period of heightened tensions that have drawn fears of a further escalation in violence and prompted calls for calm on both sides from the United States and international bodies including the United Nations.
Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year and forces have been put on high alert after a Palestinian gunman shot seven people dead near a synagogue on Jan. 27.
The military said Monday’s raid was aimed at capturing a group of militants belonging to Hamas, who it said were barricaded in a house in the camp and were planning further operations following an attempted shooting attack last month on Israelis nearby.
On Jan. 28, it said two armed individuals appeared in a restaurant in the Vered Yeriho settlement, where around 30 people were present, but fled before carrying out an attack after a weapon malfunctioned.
Over the past week, it said security forces had conducted a number of operations to try to find and arrest the suspects.
Ahead of discussions in Cairo with Egyptian officials hoping to prevent further escalation, Haniyeh indicated the raid could impact the talks.