JERUSALEM - In a deadly spurt of violence, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces yesterday, three of them suspects in Thursday's slaying of an Israeli West Bank settler.
The bloodshed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, following a relative lull in violence since spring, marked a setback for U.S. and international efforts to restart peace talks that collapsed a year ago.
Yesterday, Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus during an early-morning raid. Israeli officials accused the men, who they said were affiliated with a militant faction of the Palestinian party Fatah, of carrying out the roadside ambush Thursday in which Israeli settler Meir Avshalom Hai was killed.
Hai, 40, a father of seven, died when assailants opened fire on his car as he drove near his home in the Israeli settlement of Shavei Shomron in the West Bank. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility.
Tensions in the West Bank have risen in recent weeks after the Israeli government, under pressure from the United States, announced it would limit new construction in the settlement.
Palestinians, who want a total construction halt, have dismissed the 10-month freeze as inadequate, but it nevertheless has angered Israeli settlers, some of whom vowed to take out their frustration on Palestinians. Two weeks ago, assailants - believed to be from a Jewish extremist settlers group - vandalized a mosque south of Nablus, setting a fire that destroyed several Qurans.
At 4 a.m. yesterday, Israeli military officials said, troops surrounded the homes of the three men suspected in Hai's shooting. They said the men ignored calls to surrender.
"The Israeli defense forces were forced to storm the buildings," said Maj. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.
Subsequent searches found that the men were armed, though none fired his weapon at Israeli security forces during the raid, Lerner said.
Witnesses and family members, including a wife who was shot during the assault, said that the men were not given a chance to surrender and that Israeli soldiers shot the men even after they were lying on the ground. Lerner denied that excessive force was used.
The men were identified as Anan Sabah, 33; Raed Sarakji, 38; and Ghassan Abu Sharkh, 35.
The raid delivered a blow to the fragile security agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in a statement: "This operation is a serious escalation aimed at undermining the security and stability the [Palestinian Authority] has recently restored to the city."
Lerner said Israeli forces did not coordinate or inform Palestinian authorities before the raid because at least one of the suspects was an employee of Fatah.
At funerals yesterday for the West Bank men, Palestinians condemned the raids and called for revenge against Israel, but many also voiced anger at their own leaders for failing to provide protection.
In a separate attack yesterday, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike near the heavily guarded northern border of Gaza.
Israeli officials said they believed the three youths killed were trying to cross into Israel illegally. Palestinian officials said young men were collecting scrap metal and construction materials.
Three bombs planted under a car exploded yesterday south of Beirut, killing one person and wounding several in an attack that apparently targeted an official from Hamas, the state-run National News Agency said.
It said "three bombs tied to each other" had been placed under the car of an official believed to be from the Palestinian militant group. It did not identify the targeted official or the victims.
Lebanese security officials could not independently confirm what caused the blasts or whom the explosions targeted. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which controls the area, sealed off the streets in the suburb of Haret Hreik and prevented journalists from getting close to the scene.
Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, was not available for comment yesterday, according to a person who answered his mobile phone.
Explosions in the area, which is almost fully controlled by the Shiite Hezbollah, are rare.
- Associated Press