Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian fighter during a raid in the northern West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian health officials said, the latest escalation of violence in what has been the deadliest start of a year for Palestinians in the occupied territory in more than two decades.
Israeli forces stormed into the northern city of Tulkarem, home to an emerging group with ties to the armed offshoot of the nationalist Fatah party. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 25-year-old Amir Abu Khadija was shot multiple times in the head and legs. The Tulkarem branch of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed Abu Khadija as its leader, The Associated Press said.
The Israeli military said Abu Khadija was wanted for recent shooting attacks on Israeli settlements and security forces. Troops raided his hideout apartment in Tulkarem and shot and killed Abu Khadija when he drew his gun, the military said, adding that the army confiscated an M-16 assault rifle and the car he allegedly used to carry out drive-by shooting attacks. Security forces said they also arrested another member of the group.
The group said Abu Khadija died in an “armed clash” with Israeli forces. Images of his blood-soaked body and his trashed apartment circulated online, as angry Palestinians mourned what they described as the first “martyr” of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began Thursday in the Mideast.
This year, as in years past, the Muslim fasting month has spurred concerns of a surge in violence in the contested city of Jerusalem. Ramadan overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Passover in early April, raising the possibility of friction as sacred sites in Jerusalem’s Old City host an unusually large influx of worshippers and visitors.
The sacred compound housing the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam. Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, it's also the holiest in Judaism.
The escalating violence in the West Bank under Israel's most right-wing government in history has angered regional Arab states, which diplomatically recognized Israel in 2020.
So far this year, over 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, according to a tally by The Associated Press, about half of them affiliated with the groups. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 15 people, all but one of them civilians.