Israeli forces killed at least ten Palestinians and wounded more than 100 in an intense gun battle that erupted during a daylight raid inside the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials said on Wednesday.
The incursion into the city of Nablus is one of the bloodiest in recent years, and comes amid a year-long surge in clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants that has stoked fears that the security situation in the territory could spiral out of control.
Israel’s military said the raid targeted three militants behind previous attacks who it said were planning new ones “in the immediate future”. Two were members of Lions’ Den, a militant group based in Nablus, and the third was a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said the Israeli military.
It said its forces surrounded them in a building in the OId City and exchanged fire when they refused to surrender. Footage posted on social media showed an OId City building reduced to rubble with smoke rising from its ruins, and smashed cars.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the raid as “state terrorism and a dangerous escalation of the conflict”, while Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, said its “patience is running out”.
Palestinian Ministry of Health officials said seven of the 102 injured were in a critical condition. Militant groups claimed six of the dead as their members.
Wednesday’s raid is the biggest since Israel’s hardline new government, widely regarded as the most rightwing in the country’s history, took office in December with ultranationalists in key security posts pledging to take a tougher stance against the Palestinians.
It caps a month of escalating violence, with Israeli commandos killing 10 Palestinians during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in late January, and a Palestinian gunman shooting dead seven Israelis outside a synagogue in an East Jerusalem settlement the next day.
Two weeks ago, Israeli forces killed five Palestinians during a raid in Jericho, while a car-ramming by a Palestinian killed three Israelis at a bus stop near Jerusalem.
In total, Israeli forces have killed 57 Palestinians in the West Bank this year, according to the Palestinian health ministry, while Palestinian attackers have killed 10 Israelis. According to the UN, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since it started collecting data in 2005.
The deteriorating security situation has prompted warnings from diplomats and security officials that another intifada, akin to the Palestinian uprisings of the 1980s and 2000s, could be in the offing.
Bill Burns, head of the CIA, who was a senior US diplomat during the second intifada in the early 2000s, warned this month that “what we’re seeing today has a very unhappy resemblance to some of those realities that we saw then too”.
“In the conversations I had with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, I think it left me quite concerned about the prospects for even greater fragility and even greater violence between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said after returning from a visit to the region.