JENIN, West Bank, (Reuters) – Israel killed a Palestinian militant on Tuesday in the occupied West Bank and launched at least one air strike against rocket-launching crews in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
A six-month-old ceasefire between Hamas and the Jewish state expires on Friday, and tension along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip has soared. Israel has tried to extend the Egyptian-brokered truce but Hamas has so far refused.
Palestinian witnesses and security forces said Israeli undercover troops shot a 20-year-old Islamic Jihad militant outside a shop near the northern West Bank city of Jenin. They said he died on the way to hospital.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said troops had gone to arrest the militant on suspicion he was plotting to carry out attacks, and opened fire at him as he tried to flee arrest.
Such killings have become increasingly rare in recent months as Palestinian security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas have deployed in major West Bank cities with U.S. backing.
Israel arrested 22 Palestinians across the West Bank overnight.
Islamic Jihad issued a statement in the Gaza Strip vowing to retaliate for the shooting using “all possible means”. It said it launched five rockets at Israel as its first response. No Israelis were injured, the army said.
Palestinian medical workers said three civilians were wounded by the Israeli air strikes aimed at rocket crews. The army confirmed it carried out one air strike.
Israel also shut all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, cancelling a planned shipment of humanitarian aid.
Israeli officials warned the attacks would intensify if there were more rocket attacks.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the army was “not deterred from taking action in Gaza, but not racing” to do so. “Quiet will be answered with quiet, but if the situation requires, we will act, and at the time and place and in the manner we deem appropriate,” Barak told reporters while viewing a military exercise in the occupied Golan Heights.
A senior Israeli security source told reporters separately that Israel had “all kinds of military plans that go from small operations to taking over Gaza”.
Hamas Islamists, who seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after routing Abbas’s secular Fatah group, have said they do not expect the truce with Israel to be extended.
Israeli officials have described the truce as open-ended but say they will not abide by it unilaterally.