JERUSALEM — Israeli security forces killed three Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank early Saturday morning, as they continued to scale up their operations in response to a wave of terrorist attacks in Israel.
The Israeli police said in a statement that the militants had been intercepted while driving through the northern West Bank, after the authorities received a tip that they were about to carry out an attack. The three men were killed in a subsequent shootout that also left four Israeli soldiers wounded, the police said. The Islamic Jihad militant group later confirmed that three of its members had been killed by Israeli security forces on Saturday morning, but it did not comment on the claims about a potential attack.
The episode brings the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli military operations in the West Bank this week to at least six. Three others were killed on Thursday morning during an Israeli raid in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank, Palestinian health officials said.
Israel security forces have bolstered their presence across Israel and the occupied territories since a Palestinian gunman killed five people in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel, on Tuesday. That was the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in Israel that killed 11 people since March 22.
The army has sent several extra battalions to the West Bank, called up reservists and posted reinforcements along the boundary between Israel and Gaza. The police said they had turned their focus almost exclusively to counterterrorism operations while scaling up their presence on the streets.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also called on Israeli civilians with licensed firearms to carry their guns with them in public.
The measures reflect the heightened sense of anxiety in Israel after three unusually brazen and deadly attacks, in three Israeli cities that have rarely been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last week, before the attack in Bnei Brak, an Arab citizen of Israel stabbed three people and rammed another with his vehicle, killing all four, in Beersheba, a quiet city in southern Israel. Days later, two other Arab citizens of Israel shot dead two policemen in Hadera, a city on the Mediterranean coast. Unusually, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
Officials and analysts fear that the violence could escalate in the coming weeks, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday, will overlap with Passover and Easter for the first time in several years.
The festivals are expected to compound tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem, where access to and control over a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims — known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — has long been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip, warned in a statement Friday night that Israel would face “consequences” if it allowed Israeli troops or Jewish worshipers to enter the Aqsa Mosque compound on top of Temple Mount. It did not specify what those consequences would be.
Tensions over the mosque — coupled with Israeli efforts to evict Palestinians from a strategic area of the city — prompted Hamas to fire several rockets toward Jerusalem from Gaza in May, setting off an 11-day war. But Israeli officials believe that Hamas is most likely wary of directly organizing attacks from Gaza, because the group does not want to risk another full-scale escalation in Gaza so soon after the last war.
In a sign of de-escalation, Palestinian political groups in Gaza on Wednesday decided against commemorating Land Day, a major anniversary in the Palestinian calendar, with a protest near the boundary between Gaza and Israel. They instead gathered on the coast, reducing the risk of a confrontation with Israeli border guards.
Prayers on Friday night and Saturday morning at Al Aqsa Mosque also passed without incident.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City.