RAMALLAH, Palestine: Israeli troops shot dead a mentally ill Palestinian man who approached them in a West Bank refugee camp Sunday, the army said, while another Palestinian was killed in clashes in Ramallah. Sunday’s deaths brought to four the number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched its most extensive military operation in the West Bank in years in response to the apparent abduction of three Israeli teens on June 12.
As part of the crackdown, Israel has been trying to dismantle Hamas in the West Bank, which it has blamed for the kidnapping, without providing proof.
In the Al-Ain refugee camp in the northern West Bank, 27-year-old Ahmad Saoud was killed by Israeli troops as he walked to a local mosque for dawn prayers Sunday, said his father, Assad. The elder Saoud said his son suffered from mental illness.
The army said a Palestinian man approached soldiers in a threatening manner early Sunday, and that they fired warning shots before shooting him. The army said an “initial inquiry” suggested the man was mentally unstable.
Increasingly, Israeli troops raiding towns and refugee camps at night have been met by crowds of Palestinians throwing stones at them. There have also been signs of growing anger among Palestinians at President Mahmoud Abbas, who has defended his decision to continue security coordination with Israeli troops in finding the teens.
The Israeli army raid in Ramallah began at around 2 a.m. Sunday.
Several hundred Palestinians threw stones and flower pots at soldiers who were searching offices in two downtown commercial buildings. Troops fired live rounds and rubber-coated steel pellets, witnesses said.
After the soldiers withdrew, several dozen protesters hurled stones at a nearby Palestinian police station, said witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from the authorities.
Protesters smashed windows of cars parked outside the station, and police responded with live fire.
Demonstrators taunted police with the chant of “collaborators” during the Israeli operation.
After the clash, the body of Mohammad Ismail, 31, was found on a rooftop opposite the police station, two witnesses said.
Ahmad Bitawi, the director at Ramallah Hospital, said Ismail was killed with live bullets, but that he did not know whether he was killed by Israeli or Palestinian troops.
An autopsy showed he was shot by an M-16 rifle, Palestinian pathologist Dr. Saber Aloul said. Palestinian forces do not use M-16s, spokesman Adnan Damiri said. The Israeli military had no comment.
A Western official who works with Palestinian security forces described their morale as low and said they were aware their effective confinement to barracks during Israel’s operations had hurt their standing among ordinary Palestinians.
Several dozen people marched in downtown Ramallah Sunday to protest coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces.
“Why, why security coordination? We get hit once by the Palestinian Authority and once by the Israeli army,” they chanted.
The crisis has put pressure on a unity pact between Abbas and Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the disappearance of the youths.
Abbas has condemned the abduction of the three Israelis, and his security forces have been helping in the search. But he has also called the Israeli sweeps “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he has “unequivocal proof” of Hamas involvement, is sharing this evidence with several countries and will make it public soon.
Analyst Jihad Harb said the Israeli crackdown is weakening Abbas.
“The Palestinian street is very angry at the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas in particular because they see him siding with Israel against them,” he said.
The Israeli teens went missing as they were returning home from a Jewish religious school in the West Bank 10 days ago. They have not been heard from, and no group has yet demanded a ransom or made other demands.
Since then, Israel has arrested more than 350 Palestinians and raided some 1,600 sites in the West Bank.
In the Gaza Strip, Israel carried out airstrikes on four militant sites following rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, the army said.
Also Sunday, a Palestinian man armed with a hand grenade was caught near an Israeli town near the Gaza border, apparently after he broke through the border fence, the army said.