JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel says security forces killed three Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday who had been responsible for recent shooting attacks.
The Shin Bet internal security agency initially said they were killed in a “clash," but police later acknowledged that while the men had two assault rifles on them they did not fire them. “During the arrest, they tried to open fire and were neutralized,” the police said.
Thousands marched through the street at their funeral, waving Palestinian and factional flags. Some fired guns into the air. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed group loosely tied to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, said the three are “heroic martyrs” and vowed revenge.
In a statement, it identified them as Ashraf al-Mubaslat, Adham Mabrouk and Mohammed al-Dakhil, without giving their ages. Photos of the three men circulating online show them posing with assault rifles.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, condemned the shooting of the three men and called for an international investigation.
Palestinians and rights groups often accuse Israel of using excessive force and of killing attackers who could have been safely detained. Israel says its forces strive to avoid unnecessary casualties but must make split-second decisions in dangerous situations.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a brief statement saying the operation had proved that “there is no immunity for terrorists,” adding that “whoever harms us — will be harmed.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz congratulated the security forces and said he had recently ordered stepped-up security in the area. “We will continue our proactive operations, and we will thwart and catch anyone who tries to harm human life," he said.
Recent weeks have seen a number of stabbing and shooting attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank. An Israeli settler was shot dead near a settlement outpost in December. Israel arrested four suspects in that shooting days later.
Settlers have also carried out a number of attacks recently against Palestinians and Israeli activists, causing injuries and property damage but no fatalities.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state. Nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers reside in the territory alongside more than 2.5 million Palestinians.
The Palestinians view the settlements as the main obstacle to peace and most of the international community considers them illegal. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Peace talks ground to a halt more than a decade ago, but the PA and Israel cooperate on security and other matters.
Joseph Krauss, The Associated Press