Israeli forces kill Hamas gunmen in overnight raid near West Bank's Tulkarm

Israeli forces kill Hamas gunmen in overnight raid near West Bank's Tulkarm

By Ali Sawafta

TULKARM, West Bank (Reuters) -Israeli forces killed five Palestinians, including four fighters from the militant group Hamas, in an overnight raid near the city of Tulkarm in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said on Saturday.

Hamas confirmed that four of the men killed during the raid in Deir al-Ghusun village were from its al-Qassam armed wing. The Palestinian health ministry said their bodies had been taken by the Israeli military.

There was no information about the fifth man, whose body was too disfigured for immediate identification, the Palestinian health ministry in the West Bank said.

The Israeli military confirmed the deaths and said an Israeli officer from a special police unit was wounded in the operation it said targeted a Hamas cell responsible for numerous shooting and car bombing attacks.

It said the group was responsible for killing a reservist soldier and wounding a police officer in an attack last November and also carried out a car bombing attack in April which wounded two Israelis including a soldier.

Saturday's operation near the flashpoint city of Tulkarm was the latest in a series of clashes in the West Bank between Israeli forces and Palestinians which had escalated for more than two years but has picked up in intensity since the Hamas-led attack on Israel last October.

Hamas, the Islamist group which Israel has been fighting in Gaza, had also been building its fighting network in the West Bank before the start of the war.

During the raid, the Israeli army levelled a two-storey house with a bulldozer in an operation that lasted more than 12 hours.

According to Palestinian Health Ministry records, nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or Jewish settlers in the West Bank or East Jerusalem since Oct. 7. Many have been armed fighters but stone-throwing youths and uninvolved civilians have also been killed.

Palestinians want the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as the core of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

U.S.-backed talks to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for the past decade but the Gaza war has raised pressure for a revival of efforts to reach a two-state solution.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, say health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 252 others, of whom more than 130 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

(Additional reporting by Maytaal AngelEditing by Gareth Jones, Ros Russell and Nick Zieminski)