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Israeli soldiers kill at least three Palestinians in West Bank town

Israeli forces have shot dead at least three Palestinians at a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin. The violence comes as the two sides work to agree on a US-backed framework peace agreement by an April deadline.

An Israeli attempt to arrest an alleged Hamas militant descended into violence on Saturday, when the suspect opened fire and wounded two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

The Israeli troops returned fire, killing Hamza Abu el-Heija. In his early 20s, el-Heija was wanted for carrying out gun and bomb attacks against Israelis.

An angry crowd of Palestinians subsequently gathered outside of the targeted house in Jenin and attacked the soldiers, throwing petrol bombs and rocks. The Israelis opened fire again, killing two more Palestinians.

"There was shooting in the house for about half an hour, and then the soldiers came and ordered us to leave, so we did," said Azmi Husniya, 67, the owner of the home where el-Heija was hiding out.

The bloody raid occurred three days after Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager elsewhere in the West Bank. Earlier in the month,

militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip fired dozens of rockets

at southern Israel, precipitating Israeli airstrikes.

According to Palestinian officials, 57 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 900 have been injured since peace talks resumed last July.

Floundering peace talks

Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in peace talks under the auspices of US Secretary of State John Kerry. But so far, little progress has been made.

The Israelis have approved the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank

, despite objections from the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also refused to release some Palestinians as part of a commitment to free prisoners by the end of March.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has

refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state

, a key demand made by Netanyahu. Secretary of State Kerry has also rejected the Israeli demand, saying that UN resolutions and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had already recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

According to Kerry's plan, the two sides were supposed to sign a peace deal by April 29. But the secretary of state has scaled back his ambitions and is now calling for a “framework” agreement to be worked out by that date, which would allow negotiations to continue.

slk/jlw (AP, Reuters)

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