Five Palestinians have been shot dead during clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank. It is the biggest Israeli crackdown since the Islamic militant group Hamas won Palestinian elections last month.
Hundreds of Israeli commandos and troops from other elite forces patrolled the West Bank town of Nablus for the fifth straight day, searching for wanted Palestinian militants. The operation turned deadly when soldiers clashed with Palestinian gunmen, and opened fire on youths throwing Molotov cocktails.
The army says it launched the Nablus operation after receiving intelligence information that militants in the town were planning suicide bombings and other attacks. A bomb factory containing 70 kilos of explosives was discovered during a raid in the Casbah, or Old City.
Israeli spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says Palestinian motivation to launch attacks has increased since the election of the Islamic militant group Hamas four weeks ago.
"Those who launch terrorist attacks against us, whether they're members of Hamas, or members of Islamic Jihad, or any one of those organizations, which have decided that they want to destroy the state of Israel and continue in terrorist action, will have no immunity and no sanctuary," said Gissin.
Hamas described the Nablus raids as a war crime, and vowed to continue resistance against Israel.
"We are living under occupation, and we have full obligation to emancipate our people from this slavery," said Abdel Aziz Duweik, the new speaker of the Palestinian parliament.
Hamas, which opened coalition talks with other Palestinian factions this week, accused Israel of trying to undermine its efforts to form a new government. Hamas has five weeks to establish a government, which Israel has already described as a terrorist regime.