JERUSALEM—Israeli troops conducted a series of raids against Hamas terrorists across the occupied West Bank early Sunday, sparking a pair of gun battles in which five members of Hamas were killed and two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded.
It was the deadliest violence between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorist operations in the West Bank in several weeks as the region suffers from heightened terrorist activity.
The Israeli military said it had been tracking the Hamas terrorists for several weeks and that the raids were launched in response to immediate threats.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the terrorists were about to carry out attacks “in real time.” He praised the Israeli forces, saying they acted “as expected.”
“They engaged the enemy and we back them completely,” he said.
In a statement, the military said it launched five simultaneous raids and soldiers opened fire after being shot at in two locations. It said five Hamas terrorists were killed and several others were arrested.
It also said an officer and a soldier were seriously injured, possibly inadvertently by Israeli fire.
Hamas confirmed that four of the dead, including all three killed in Biddu, were members of the radical Islamic group, praising them as “heroic martyrs.” Palestinian officials said a 16-year-old boy was also among the dead, though it was not immediately known if he was a terrorist.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said two Palestinians were shot dead near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, a known terrorist stronghold, and three others were killed in Biddu, north of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers semi-autonomous areas in the West Bank, condemned the killings and said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for this bloody morning and the crimes committed by the occupation forces.”
But Hamas also criticized the Palestinian Authority, which maintains security coordination with Israel in a shared struggle against the terrorist group. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip after seizing it from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Hamas spokesman Abdulatif al-Qanou said that recent meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials “encouraged the occupation again to pursue the resistance.”
Also Sunday, Israel released Khalida Jarrar, a prominent Palestinian lawmaker, after nearly two years in prison. Jarrar, a senior figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has been in and out of Israeli prisons for years—often without being charged.
The PFLP has an armed wing and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, but Jarrar has not been implicated in attacks. She was sentenced to two years in prison in March for membership in a banned group but given credit for time already served. She was freed several weeks before her sentence was to end.
Last month, undercover Israeli forces dressed as Palestinians returned fire after being fired upon by terrorists during a late night raid in Jenin to arrest a Hamas suspect. Four Palestinians were killed in the crossfire.
Sunday’s clashes came a week after Israel recaptured the last of six Palestinian fugitives who tunneled out of a maximum-security Israeli prison earlier this month. The escapees were from Jenin, and two were caught there after an extensive search.
By Ilan Ben Zion. NTD contributed to this article.