4 Palestinians killed in flare-up as Israel counts votes

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians in separate incidents on Thursday, including one who had stabbed a police officer in east Jerusalem and three others in Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank.

Early Friday, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire Thursday evening from the Palestinian enclave. The rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes were the first cross-border violence since a cease-fire ended a round of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group there in August.

The violence flared as Israel completed the counting of votes in national elections held this week, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies capturing a comfortable majority of seats in Israel’s parliament.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops operating in the Jenin refugee camp, a militant stronghold, killed at least two Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said one of those killed was a local commander. Residents said he was killed while at the butcher, where he was buying meat ahead of his wedding this weekend.

The army said Farouk Salameh was wanted in a number of shooting attacks on Israeli security forces, including the killing of a police officer last May. It said that a firefight ensued, Salameh fled and then drew a gun at soldiers who shot and killed him.

Late Thursday, Gaza militants fired a rocket into southern Israel, setting off air-raid sirens in the area. The army said the rocket was intercepted, and that three other launch attempts failed and exploded inside Gaza. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but in the past, Islamic Jihad has fired rockets in response to the killings of its members.

In response, the Israeli military said it targeted an underground site used by Gaza’s Hamas rulers as a rocket-making facility. The airstrikes “will significantly impede” Hamas’ rocket capabilities, it said. It also blamed the militant group for attacks emanating from Gaza. There were no reports of casualties.

Earlier Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank. Israeli police said it happened during a raid in the territory and alleged the man threw a firebomb at the forces.

In a separate incident Thursday, a Palestinian stabbed a police officer in Jerusalem’s Old City, police said, and officers opened fire on the attacker, killing him. The officer was lightly wounded.

The violence came as a political shift is underway in Israel after national elections, with Netanyahu set to return to power in a coalition government made up of far-right allies, including the extremist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, who in response to the incidents said Israel would soon take a tougher approach to attackers.

“The time has come to restore security to the streets,” he tweeted. “The time has come for a terrorist who goes out to carry out an attack to be taken out!”

The violence was the latest in a wave of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that has killed more than 130 Palestinians this year, making 2022 the deadliest since the U.N. started tracking fatalities in 2005.

The violence intensified in the spring, after a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people, prompting Israel to launch a months-long operation in the West Bank it says is meant to dismantle militant networks. The raids have been met in recent weeks by a rise in attacks against Israelis, killing at least three.

Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But youths protesting the incursions and people uninvolved in the fighting have also been killed.

Also on Thursday, Israel said it was removing checkpoints in and out of the city of Nablus. Israel had imposed the restrictions weeks ago, clamping down on the city in response to a new militant group known as the Lions’ Den. The military has conducted repeated operations in the city in recent weeks, killing or arresting the group’s top commanders.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and has since maintained a military occupation over the territory and settled more than 500,000 people there. The Palestinians want the territory, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem, for their hoped-for independent state.

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Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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