Israeli troops shot and killed three militants from the Islamic Jihad militant group in the West Bank town of Jenin on Wednesday, while forces raided the nearby city of Nablus for the second time this week.
In Jenin, Israeli undercover troops shot from a black car toward a vehicle in which the three militants were sitting, witnesses said. The army confirmed its troops killed the men, saying they planned a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that was thwarted last week.
Two of the militants were killed instantly, and the third, Ashraf Saadi, was shot dead after he exited the car and tried to escape, the witnesses said. Saadi was the spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
The army disputed the witnesses' account, saying troops had tried to arrest Saadi in a hospital parking lot, but he opened fire at them. Troops returned fire, killing the three militants, the army said.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad's militant wing in the Gaza Strip, Abu Ahmad, said the group would retaliate.
"This new crime will not pass without tough punishment," Abu Ahmad said in a text message sent to reporters. "Their blood will be the fuel of our holy battle. And our reaction is coming soon."
In Nablus, dozens of jeeps backed by bulldozers raided the flashpoint city on Wednesday, imposing a curfew on tens of thousands of Palestinians. The army said its operation to track militants in city would continue.
The troops had withdrawn on Tuesday but were back at dawn Wednesday, witnesses said. At least three bulldozers sealed off all entrances to the old city with rubble and large concrete blocks and jeeps patrolled the streets of much of the city to reinstate a curfew, they said. More than 50,000 people were confined to their homes.
It was one of the largest Israeli raids in the West Bank in months. Israel has frequently used such operations in an attempt to crush militant activity and thwart suicide bombings.
Schools and a university in the area announced the cancellation of studies Wednesday. Residents had on Tuesday stocked up on food, uncertain if the operation would continue and, if so, for how long.
Five suspects were arrested in house to house searches for militants, the army said.
Among those detained were the siblings of a wanted militant, the parents of another, and an imam known as a supporter of the Hamas militant group and his three children, witnesses said.
The army has said the operation is necessary in the city known for its militant activity since most of the suicide bombers trying to enter Israel from the West Bank come from Nablus, the AP reported.
Thus far, one Palestinian has been killed in the operation, which began Sunday. Three explosive labs have been uncovered, the army said.