By Ali Sawafta
JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed five Hamas militants on Monday during a raid on a refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Jericho, the Palestinian armed group and Israeli sources said.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said it would avenge the death of its members killed in the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp raid, which Israel said was aimed at capturing gunmen who had attempted a shooting attack on Israelis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli incursion. 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, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, who it said were barricaded in a house in the camp and were planning further operations following an attempted shooting attack last month.
The military added that on Jan. 28 two armed individuals had 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, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh indicated the raid could affect the talks.
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by James Mackenzie and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Ed Osmond, William Maclean)