4 Palestinians have been killed during an Israeli incursion into the occupied West Jerusalem neighborhood of Bethlehem on Saturday, Palestinian officials said, in a rare display of military force by Israel against Palestinians.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, which has been battling the Israeli-led offensive for the past year, said that four Palestinians were killed during the assault on Bethlehem by Israeli forces, including a young child and a mother of two who were killed in the area of al-Dura.
The attack came as the Gaza Strip was on high alert, with residents evacuating their homes amid heightened Israeli shelling.
A Palestinian military spokesman in Gaza said the death toll was likely to rise, saying that the number of Palestinians killed had not been confirmed.
The IDF, meanwhile, did not confirm any Palestinian casualties.
The incursion comes just weeks after Israel launched its offensive in Gaza and Palestinian officials blamed Hamas, which controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by Israel, for the violence.
The attack was launched in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, and is aimed at deterring Palestinian militants from entering Israel.
The escalation comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
Israel launched an offensive on Friday to recapture the West Bank city of Jericho, after a Hamas-run armed group killed five Israeli soldiers and injured nine others in an ambush.
A Hamas spokesman said the soldiers were “martyred in the front line.”
Israel has been conducting a campaign of airstrikes on Hamas-controlled Gaza, where the militant group has been firing rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
In recent days, Israeli jets have struck the Gaza-based Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Mosque compound in a bid to drive back a surge of Palestinian rocket fire.
In late February, the Israel Defense Forces launched a new round of airstrikes in the Gaza strip, targeting rocket launchers and tunnels.
The Israeli military said on Saturday that it had conducted “some limited” air raids on Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip.
The air raids have come as a response to rocket fire on the country’s southern border with Egypt.
Israel has blamed the Gaza rocket fire for a spate of deadly car bombings that have killed more than 1,000 people in the past few weeks, including at least 13 people on Saturday.
The Gaza Strip has been rocked by three major car bombings in the last week.