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Israel arrests dozens of Palestinians in overnight raids across West Bank

Forty arrested after four Palestinians and two Israelis killed in the most violent 24 hours to hit the West Bank and Jerusalem in months
Mahmoud Abbas condemned the anti-Israeli attacks but highlighted Israeli raids as a potential cause of anger (Reuters)

Israeli forces have arrested 40 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank overnight during a manhunt for the perpetrator of a shooting that left two Israeli soliders dead, the army said on Friday.

The arrests come as four Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in separate operations over a period of about 24 hours, with the army declaring Ramallah a closed military zone, as it carried out searches around the roads entering and exiting the city.

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Entrances and exits to the city were sealed for several hours and the army entered multiple neighbourhoods, before troops withdrew to the outskirts on Thursday evening.

Clashes broke out in various spots but subsided later in the evening, AFP correspondents said.

The closure followed a shooting on Thursday near the illegal Israeli settlement of Ofra, east of Ramallah, when two Israeli soldiers were killed after an attacker opened fire on them at a bus stop.

"Forces apprehended 40 suspects wanted for their involvement in terror activities, popular terror and violent riots targeting civilians and security forces," an army spokesperson said in a statement said on Friday.

The army alleged that 37 of them were known to be members of Hamas, which rules the besieged Gaza Strip.

The military did not announce any arrests in relation to the attack on the soldiers.

'Attempted to run over'

In total, six people were killed in the most violent 24 hours to hit the West Bank and Jerusalem in months.

A 60-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces on Thursday in al-Bireh,  Ramallah's twin city, the Palestinian health ministry said, in what the Israeli army called an attempted car ramming.

The ministry said the man, who was not named, was shot.

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The army said in a statement that he had "attempted to run over" soldiers, lightly injuring one.

"Security forces who were present at the scene fired towards the terrorist and neutralised him," it added.

An AFP journalist saw Israeli soldiers rushing to the site, with multiple rounds of live ammunition fired at the target.

The car windows were smashed, an AFP photographer at the scene later said.

'Extrajudicially executed'

The bus stop shooting came only hours after Israeli forces killed two Palestinians allegedly responsible for West Bank attacks on Israelis.

The armed wing of Hamas claimed the two Palestinians as its "fighters".

One of them was Saleh Omar al-Barghouti, a 29-year-old accused of shooting seven Israelis on Sunday, also at a bus stop near the Ofra settlement.

The Shin Bet Israeli internal security service said that other members of Barghouti's group, all of them affiliated with Hamas, had been arrested overnight.

A framed picture of Saleh Omar al-Barghouthi at his family home (AFP)
Muqbil Barghouthi, a relative of Saleh's, told Middle East Eye that witnesses had seen a van with Palestinian licence plates following Saleh's taxi and that he had been shot at without warning, leading them to believe he was being targeted by undercover Israeli forces.

"They saw the soldiers take Saleh out of the car, and the witnesses said that he wasn't injured and had not been shot," Muqbil Barghouthi said.

"He was fine when they arrested him, the people didn't see any blood. We believe he was taken to another area and extra-judicially executed."

Saleh's relative added that his family did not believe he was involved in the drive-by shooting that had led to him being targeted.

The other Palestinian killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday night had been suspected of shooting dead two Israelis in October.

Ashraf Naalwa, 23, was killed when forces tried to arrest him near Nablus in the West Bank, Shin Bet said.

In another incident on Thursday morning, a Palestinian stabbed two Israeli border police in Jerusalem's Old City before being shot dead.

Netanyahu illegal settlement pledge

Since Sunday's attack, Israeli forces have made a series of incursions into central Ramallah, where President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.

Abbas himself condemned the Palestinian attacks but highlighted Israeli raids as a potential cause of anger.

"The climate created by the policy of repeated intrusions into the cities, the provocations against the sovereignty of the president and the lack of a horizon for peace are what led to this unacceptable series of violence that we condemn and reject," he said.

Hebrew posters have been pasted in the West Bank over the past week inciting the killing of Abbas, reportedly part of a campaign launched by a far-right Israeli group.

Outside the West Bank settlement of Givat Asaf on Thursday posters with Abbas's photo read: 'Eliminate the people sponsoring murder' (AFP)
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi accused Israeli forces of carrying out "summary executions" of the four Palestinians killed.

"Israeli settlers are on the rampage, protected by the Israeli army. This reign of terror has compounded the pressure cooker effect," she wrote on Twitter.

Israel's premier Netanyahu responded to the violence by vowing to legalise "thousands" of settlement homes built without even Israeli permits.

Israel seized control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war. Around 600,000 Israelis now live there in settlements considered illegal by the international community, with a number of them built on private Palestinian-owned lands.

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