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Israel soldier, two Palestinians killed in West Bank clashes

Palestinians march in the village of Kafr Dan, to show solidarity with the families of two Palestinians killed in overnight clashes with Israeli security forces. ©AFP

Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - An Israeli soldier and two Palestinians were killed in clashes Wednesday near Jenin in the occupied West Bank, an area hit by waves of recent deadly unrest.

Israel's army said a major "was killed overnight during operational activity adjacent to the Gilboa Crossing during an exchange of fire with Palestinian terrorists".

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed "the martyrdom of the two young men" in clashes near the checkpoint, which is known to Palestinians as Jalameh, north of the militant stronghold of Jenin.

The Palestinians killed were named as Ahmed Ayman Ibrahim Abed, 23, and Abdul Rahman Hani Subhi Abed, 22, originally from the village of Kufr Dan outside Jenin, by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

A Palestinian security source confirmed to AFP that Ahmed Abed was a serving intelligence officer of the Palestinian security services in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya.

The Israeli army named the slain soldier as Major Bar Falah, 30, who was buried Wednesday night in the military cemetery in his hometown of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas' secular Fatah party, claimed responsibility for the Israeli major's death.

"After a clash lasting several hours between the heroic fighters and the occupation forces, our fighters from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades managed to kill officer Bar Falah," it said in a statement.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned of an escalation over the killing of what he called "an Israeli hero".

"One of the terrorists killed was a member of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence forces.This escalates things to another level," the Israeli leader said.

"We will not hesitate to act in any place that the Palestinian Authority does not maintain order."

'Heroic operation'

The Palestinian armed groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad both lauded the Israeli soldier's death, but neither said its fighters were involved in the gun battle. 

A Hamas spokesperson praised the "heroic operation that was carried out by the resistance fighters".

The army said the overnight clash came after it had pursued "two suspects" who were spotted "approximately 100 meters (300 feet) from the fence".

"At approximately 2:15 am, when the troops were just a few metres from (the suspects)...the suspects engaged fired," said a spokesman.

The Jalameh checkpoint is a major throughfare for goods coming into the West Bank from Israel.

On Wednesday evening, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, announced that the border crossings leading to Jenin had been shut. 

"Following an evaluation today of the security situation, the Minister of Defense has decided to completely close the Gilboa and Sallem crossings as of today and until further notice," COGAT said.

Entry permits to Israel were also suspended for residents of Kufr Dan, including work permits, until further notice, it added.

Security was tightened ahead of Israeli football club Maccabi Haifa's Champions League tie against French giants Paris Saint-Germain just 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Jenin.

Twelve other Palestinians were arrested in overnight raids across the West Bank, Wafa said.

Jenin local authorities announced a city-wide strike in response to the two deaths, which also sparked a solidarity march for their families.

Flashpoint Jenin

Jenin has suffered frequent violence in recent months, part of a deadly flare-up that began in mid-March following deadly attacks on Israeli targets, mostly by Palestinians. 

In response, Israel has launched near nightly raids on West Bank towns and cities that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.

On Sunday, a Palestinian claimed as a member by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades died from wounds sustained during clashes with Israeli troops in Jenin camp.

Last week, army chief Kohavi said "around 1,500 wanted people were arrested and hundreds of attacks prevented" in the operations.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 when it captured the territory from Jordan.

About 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the West Bank in communities considered illegal by most of the international community, alongside some 2.8 million Palestinians.

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