Israeli forces raided a Palestinian village close to the West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday, killing three Islamic Jihad militants they said were suspected of carrying out shooting attacks in the area.
Islamic Jihad claimed the three fighters, who the Israeli military said were suspected of multiple shooting attacks in Jaba village, southwest of Jenin, as well as in the area of Homesh, a nearby settlement outpost that was evacuated in 2005 and is now home to a religious school.
The incident came on the same day U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was visiting Israel, where he was expected to discuss the growing violence on the West Bank.
In Jaba, residents said they heard intense gunfire early in the morning and saw a large Israeli force in the village, where the blood-spattered wreckage of the car in which the gunmen were killed remained in the street.
A Israeli statement said the gunmen had opened fire from their car when Israeli forces entered the area. It said two members of Islamic Jihad were killed as well as what it described as an additional armed suspect.
Jaba, where two Islamic Jihad gunmen were killed in January, has a large presence of armed militants from different factions and as mourners assembled for the funeral of the three killed on Thursday, fighters said the raids would not deter them.
"Day after day, more men from Jaba and neighboring villages join us," said one masked gunman, as dozens of other militants prepared to take part in the funeral marches.
Thousands of mourners, some carrying Palestinian flags and the banners of the main factions, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah and chanting for revenge, joined the funeral of the three, as gunmen fired into the air.
Police seized two rifles and another gun as well as explosive devices and arrested three other suspects. According to Noaman Khalileya, owner of a local garage near to where the incident took place, security forces also confiscated his security camera and erased pictures on his mobile telephone.
The operation came days after Israeli forces raided refugee camp in Jenin and killed six Palestinian gunmen, including a Hamas member suspected of killing two brothers from a Jewish settlement near the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank on Feb. 26.
The Palestinian health ministry said a 14-year-old boy, wounded during the gunbattle that broke out in Jenin during the Israeli raid, had died of his wounds.
In a statement to Voice of Palestine radio, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of launching a "full-scale war" against the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that it had suspended its security cooperation agreement with Israel in January, following a raid in Jenin that killed nine Palestinians, but the raids have put it under growing pressure.
The Islamist group Hamas, which controls the blockaded Gaza Strip but which also has fighters across the West Bank, said PA security forces arrested several members of the group overnight in the West Bank city of Nablus after they took part in the funeral march of the Huwara gunman a day earlier.
"Such a behavior serves the Zionist occupation only," it said in a statement.
Israeli forces have conducted near daily raids across the West Bank for months after a spate of deadly attacks by Palestinians in Israel last year. They have made thousands of arrests and killed more than 200 Palestinians, including both fighters and civilians.
Over the same period, more than 40 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.