By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH (Reuters) -Israeli forces raided the Palestinian city of Jenin on Thursday and fought an hours-long battle with gunmen in which 14 people were killed, one of the heaviest clashes in the occupied West Bank in months.
Four more Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in separate incidents across the West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said, an increase in violence against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hamas in the nearby Gaza Strip.
Witnesses said gunfire sounded for hours as Israeli troops fought well-armed militants in the streets of Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp, where hundreds of heavily armed gunmen are based.
Israel’s military said it had conducted counter terrorism operations in the city and had used a drone to strike a group of armed militants. It added that it had arrested 20 suspects in the raid and seized both guns and ammunition.
Amongst those killed was a 15-year-old boy, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Clashes also flared elsewhere in the West Bank, with deaths reported close to Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron as well as on the outskirts of Ramallah, the main city in the territory.
At least 178 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the Oct. 7 attack from Gaza on Israel by gunmen from the Islamist movement Hamas. Israel unleashed its assault on Gaza in response to the attack in which gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Palestinian officials said 10,812 Gaza residents had been killed as of Thursday, about 40% of them children, in air and artillery strikes while basic supplies are running out and areas laid waste by unrelenting Israeli bombardments.
The mounting death toll in the West Bank has underscored fears that the territory seized by Israel in a 1967 war could spiral out of control as the conflict against Hamas in Gaza proceeds.
“The bloody aggression of the Israeli occupation on Jenin Governorate is a deliberate escalation to detonate the situation in the West Bank,” the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign affairs said in a statement.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas. Israeli jets have bombarded the Gaza Strip for weeks and Israeli tanks and troops have penetrated deep into the enclave, encircling Gaza City.
Anger over the fighting has risen in the West Bank and many parts of the Arab world with growing calls for a ceasefire.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Clauda Tanios in Dubai; Writing by Maytaal Angel and James Mackenzie; Editing by Toby Chopra, Crispian Balmer and Grant McCool)