By Ali Sawafta
NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed two Palestinian militants on Friday, Palestinian sources said, in what the Israeli military said was a response to a shooting at soldiers in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military said its forces shot at “two suspicious vehicles” after a passing car fired at one of its posts near the city of Nablus, which has been at the heart of a surge in violence in the West Bank over recent months.
No soldiers were injured and troops were searching for additional suspects, it said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the dead men as Emad Abu Rasheed, 47, and Ramzi Zabara, 35, both from Askar refugee camp near Nablus. It said a third man was wounded.
The militant al-Aqsa Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, claimed the two killed men as members.
According to Facebook posts by the Palestinian Civil Guard, the Palestinian Authority’s emergency and rescue service, the two men were also among its ranks.
The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, coordinates security with Israel. The Israeli military did not respond to a question on the men’s affiliation with the Palestinian Civil Guard.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned the killing, and said Israel was fully responsible.
Violence has been on the rise in the West Bank ahead of Tuesday’s election in Israel.
Friday’s incident occurred about an hour after the military said it was removing some of the barriers blocking entry to Nablus, which has been under blockade for days.
Earlier this week, the Israeli military cracked down on the “Den of Lions”, a loosely affiliated militant group comprised mainly of young Nablus men with the goal of fighting Israel’s occupation, killing three of its leaders.
On Friday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters she was concerned Israel’s “unlawful targeted killings” in the occupied West Bank could lead to escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has said Israel “will not relent” and will continue to hit militant targets to ensure its citzens are safe.
More than 100 Palestinians from the West Bank have been killed by Israeli forces this year while a string of fatal street attacks by Palestinians have killed 20 people in Israel and Israeli settlements.
Four members of Israel’s security forces have also been killed, including at least one by the Den of Lions, which Israel describes as a terrorist group.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Henriette Chacar; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Angus MacSwan)