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Palestinian shot dead in Israeli 'counter-terror' West Bank raid

Palestinians carry the body of Ahmed Ibrahim Oweidat, killed during an operation by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank
— Jericho (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

A Palestinian was killed Tuesday when Israeli forces stormed a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank in what the army called a "counter-terrorism" operation that sparked violent riots.

The deadly shooting was the latest in a wave of bloodshed in the West Bank and Israel as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover overlapped this month.

The Palestinian health ministry said 20-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim Oweidat "succumbed to critical wounds sustained by live bullets to the head, at dawn today in Aqabat Jaber camp" near Jericho.

Two other men were wounded by live fire when the "undercover" forces raided the camp overnight, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

Israel's army said in a statement to AFP that soldiers had conducted an overnight operation in Aqabat "to apprehend wanted suspects".

"During the operational activity, dozens of Palestinians violently rioted and attacked the soldiers," it said, adding that no Israeli troops were hurt.

"The rioters burned tyres and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers. The soldiers responded with riot dispersal means and live ammunition."

- Mounting death toll -

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians are common in the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, but recent weeks have seen a surge in unrest.

Officers check documents of workers waiting to reach Israel through the Erez crossing following its reopening, in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on April 26, 2022

Attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in Israel have killed 14 people since late March, while Oweidat is among 25 Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, among them assailants, killed by Israeli forces over the same period.

His body, wrapped in the Palestinian flag and that of the president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, was driven from a Ramallah hospital to Jericho for his burial, where hundreds of mourners enduring 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) heat surrounded the Oweidat family home. As the body left the family home, Oweidat's mother wailed as she gave her son a final embrace.

Violent clashes have also recently rocked the compound of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, sparking fears of another armed conflict after an 11-day war last year between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip, triggered by similar unrest.

Following the Al-Aqsa clashes, isolated rocket fire towards Israel from Gaza resumed, prompting Israeli reprisals on targets linked to Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the coastal Palestinian enclave. No injuries have been reported on either side as a result of the rocket fire or retaliatory air strikes.

- Gaza workers -

Palestinian workers leave Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip to reach Israel through the Erez crossing following its reopening on April 26, 2022

Israel on Saturday had closed the Erez crossing with Gaza in retaliation for the rocket fire, blocking the 12,000 Palestinians with permits to enter the Jewish state from going to work.

But Erez re-opened Monday "following a security assessment," Israel's defence ministry said, warning that a sustained opening was conditioned on "the continued preservation of a stable security situation".

No rockets have been fired from Gaza since Saturday morning.

Concerns of fresh Al-Aqsa clashes are building, though, ahead of Friday prayers at the compound, with the end of Ramadan also approaching in early May.

Palestinian Muslims have been angered by an uptick in Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam's third-holiest site. It is also Judaism's holiest place and known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

In an apparent attempt to ease tensions, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters Sunday that Israel was committed to the "status quo" at Al-Aqsa, meaning an adherence to long-standing convention allowing Jews to visit the compound but not pray there.