Three Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank early on Saturday, the first day of Ramadan, bringing the total number of Palestinians slain in the preceding three days to seven – five in Jenin, one in Bethlehem, and one in Hebron.
Following the latest deaths, anger in the occupied territories grew, with Palestinians gathering at the homes of the victims to cry slogans and demand vengeance.
The three individuals murdered in the arrest operation were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, according to Israeli military and security officials, who were planning a firearms attack in Israel and were responsible for recent attacks on Israeli targets.
The bullet-riddled van carrying Khalil Tawalbeh, 24, Saeb Abahra, 30, both from Jenin, and Saif Abu Labdah, 25, from Tulkarm, had rifles and bombs.
During a shootout that left four Israeli soldiers wounded, witnesses say more than 200 rounds were fired at the truck. Israeli troops confiscated the bodies of the three men.
Photos of the victims circulated on social media, inflaming Palestinians already enraged by injuries and arrests suffered during recent violent clashes with Israeli soldiers.
“Following a joint operation by the IDF, the Shin Bet, the terrorist cell that recently carried out many attacks against security personnel and expected to carry out additional attacks shortly, was annihilated tonight,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement.
The Islamic Jihad movement promised to “equal the enormity of the Israeli crime” with its reaction.
“We confirm that the enemy’s campaign of murder and assassination against our people in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem will not offer them with the purported security that they seek, and will not grant them legitimacy on our country,” Hamas, Gaza’s rulers, said.
“A heinous atrocity committed outside the law, whose perpetrators must be held accountable before the International Criminal Court,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi have ordered the IDF to prepare for a “month of escalation,” as well as a massive deployment of Israeli security personnel in the West Bank and inside Israel.
In recent days, Israeli security forces have increased arrests in the West Bank and among Arab Israelis, claiming to have stopped many planned attacks.
“At a time when several parties, including the US, are working to prevent escalation in the holy month of Ramadan, Israel is carrying out this targeted strike,” Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudina said.
He went on to say that Israeli policy “threatens security, stability, and tranquility.”
The takeover of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Jewish radicals, along with settlers’ everyday crimes, will only heighten tensions, according to Rudina.
He criticized Israel for the risky escalation’s effects, which he described as “dire and deadly for everyone and the entire area.”
“These horrible executions will not solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the struggle to end the occupation,” said Ahmed Rafiq Awad, director of Al-Quds University’s Al-Quds Center for Future Studies. “But they will push other generations to follow the same road.”
“If the Israeli army believes it can execute Palestinian militants without hurting Palestinian public opinion, it is mistaken,” he stated.
Awad called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Israeli administration “weak,” saying it “easily listens to the demands of the radicals in the coalition to escalate the bloodshed against the Palestinians in order to secure its survival.”