Israeli troops kill two fugitive Hamas gunmen in West Bank

Israeli forces and medics at the scene of a shooting attack near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Dec 13, 2018.
Israeli forces and medics at the scene of a shooting attack near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Dec 13, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - Israeli commandos killed two fugitive gunmen overnight in the occupied West Bank and Hamas claimed them as its members on Thursday (Dec 13), a measure of the Palestinian Islamist faction's resilience in areas controlled by its more moderate rival Fatah.

The first gunman was wanted for an attack near a Jewish settlement on Sunday that wounded seven people, including a pregnant woman who lost her baby, and the second for shooting dead two Israelis at a settlement industrial park on Oct 7.

West Bank violence has simmered since Palestinian statehood talks with Israel stalled in 2014. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas maintains security cooperation with Israel there, mindful of the grassroots appeal of Hamas since it seized Gaza from him in 2007.

"Resistance in the West Bank will never stop until the (Israeli) Occupation is removed from all our land and we regain all our rights," Hamas, which confirmed the slain gunmen had carried out the two attacks on its behalf, said in a statement.

Mr Abbas's administration sought to shift focus to Israel's West Bank settlements, which most countries regard as illegal.

"The international community bears part of the responsibility for the aggression by the occupation and the settlers because of its silence towards these attacks," said Palestinian government spokesman Youssef Al-Mahmoud.

Asked whether they had cooperated on the overnight raids, Israeli and Palestinian security officials declined comment.

The diplomatic impasse between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Abbas has deepened since the Palestinians boycotted the Trump administration over the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Separately on Thursday, a man stabbed and wounded two Israeli police troopers in East Jerusalem, another area where Palestinians seek statehood, and was shot dead, police said. His identity was not immediately clear.

Israel and the United States have pressured Mr Abbas's administration over stipends it pays relatives of Palestinians jailed or killed by Israeli forces. The allies say this money fuels militancy.

"We will bring all terrorists and those who dispatch them to justice. Abu Mazen (Abbas), who finances the terrorists' families, must also pay the price," Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said on Twitter.

Mr Avi Dichter, chairman of the Israeli Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, described Hamas operations as targeting both Israel and Mr Abbas.

"Hamas has an interest in carrying out terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, but even more so in carrying them out inside the West Bank," Mr Dichter told Israel Radio.