Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - An Israeli raid targeting alleged militants in a West Bank flashpoint killed four Palestinians on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said, including the brother of a man blamed for a deadly attack in Tel Aviv.
The violence was the latest to hit Jenin, in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, an area that has seen near daily clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen since an escalation that began in March.
Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Rub told AFP that Wednesday's raid was "the most violent that the occupation army has carried out since the start of the year".
The Palestinian health ministry recorded four dead and 44 wounded by live fire in the latest Israeli operation.
Among them was Abed Hazem, whose brother Raad was named as the killer of three Israelis in a shooting spree in Tel Aviv's busy nightlife district in April.
Raad Hazem was shot dead after a massive Israeli manhunt.Israeli forces have for months been pursuing Abed and Raad's father Fathi, who attended his son's funeral on Wednesday.
The Israeli army confirmed two deaths during an operation it said targeted "two suspects involved in a number of recent shooting attacks".
"While surrounding the residence in which both suspects were located, an explosive device detonated and the suspects opened fire toward the security forces," the army said in a statement.
"The security forces fired back according to standard operating procedures and the two suspects were both killed," it added, confirming Hazem as one of the dead.
'Ready to face them'
Mohammed al-Haj Qasem, head of operations at Jenin's Ibn Sina Hospital, said the clashes were the worst since the facility opened around two years ago.
"It's not only the number of deaths but those wounded and their gravity," he told AFP.
Hundreds gathered for funerals in Jenin and its refugee camp later on Wednesday.
At a mosque in the camp, hundreds mourned Abed Hazem, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.
Earlier this month, Israeli security forces destroyed the home of Hazem's brother Raad, whose image is carried on posters in the camp glorifying him as a "lion".
"We're not afraid of anything," said a young Palestinian man, who requested anonymity due to security concerns."If Israelis want an escalation, we are ready to face them."
More clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinians rocked several villages in the West Bank during the day, and two Palestinians were seriously wounded by gunshots in the evening near Ramallah, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Businesses were shuttered in Nablus and Jenin after the Israeli raid and the announcement of a general strike.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of operations in the northern West Bank in pursuit of alleged militants, including in Jenin and nearby Nablus.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.
Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in Jenin while covering an Israeli military raid in May.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967 but parts of the territory are nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in accordance with terms set out in the 1994 Oslo peace accords.
'Policy of escalation'
Analysts have warned that the dramatic rise in Israeli West Bank raids is further weakening the unpopular Palestinian Authority, with Palestinians increasingly condemning president Mahmud Abbas's administration for its security cooperation with Israel.
Following the latest Jenin unrest, Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina accused Israel of "tampering with security and stability through pursuing a policy of escalation," in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.
The United States said it was "deeply concerned" by the rising violence and stood ready to help, but called first for action on the ground.
"We call on all parties to do everything in their power to deescalate the situation and return to a period of calm," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The European Union, in a tweet, said it was "alarmed by the spike in violence today in Jenin following the (Israeli) incursions".
Israel has demanded that the PA security forces do more to crack down on alleged militants, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed earlier this month that he would "not hesitate to act in any place that the Palestinian Authority does not maintain order".
Israel is on high alert over the Jewish holidays, which began Sunday with New Year, or Rosh Hashana, and continue next Tuesday with Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar.