Five Palestinian militants have been killed in an Israeli army raid near Jericho in the occupied West Bank. The armed wing of the Islamist movement Hamas said all those killed were its members.
It is the latest in nearly nightly operations by the Israeli military targeting militants in the territory.
The last two weeks have been a particularly bloody period, with deadly Israeli raids and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Sunday night’s operation aimed to arrest a “Hamas terrorist cell” which it said was behind a gun attack a week earlier on a restaurant near a Jewish settlement close to Jericho. No-one was injured in that attack.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is less prominent in the West Bank. Palestinian towns and villages there are mostly governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by Hamas’ secular rival, Fatah.
The raid, coupled with activity by a Hamas cell, is unusual in Jericho, which has a relatively high concentration of Fatah-loyal PA security forces.
Witnesses say there was heavy gunfire during the incident in Jericho’s large Aqabat Jabr refugee camp. Bullet holes and bloodstains could be seen in a small house at the centre of the fighting.
IDF spokesperson Ran Kochav said soldiers “neutralised the terrorists”, some of whom, he said, had been involved in the attack on the restaurant.
Hamas’ armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said those killed were its fighters. The governor of Jericho, Jihad Abu al-Assal, said the bodies were taken away by the IDF. Eight people were also arrested, he said.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have spiralled since an IDF raid against militants in the West Bank city of Jenin 10 days ago left 10 Palestinians, including two civilians, dead. Israeli security services said a “terror squad” had been planning an imminent attack.
Hours later, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on Jewish worshippers and passers-by outside a synagogue in occupied East Jerusalem, killing seven. The following morning, a 13-year-old Palestinian shot a group of people, also in East Jerusalem, wounding an Israeli father and son.
Later in the day, security camera footage showed a gunman and an accomplice entering the restaurant near Vered Yeriho settlement, where about 30 people were sitting.
Military sources said the man, armed with an assault rifle, fired one shot in the air before his weapon jammed and the pair left the scene in a car with an Israeli licence plate.
There have been international calls for calm, including from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who met Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank following the recent bloodshed.
At least 37 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank so far this year, including militants and civilians, as the military continues operations there.
Last year in the West Bank, more than 150 Palestinians were killed, nearly all by Israeli forces. The dead included unarmed civilians, militant gunmen and armed attackers.
Meanwhile, a series of attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs targeting Israelis, as well as militant gunfire at troops during arrest raids, killed more than 30 people including civilians, police and soldiers.