JERUSALEM -- Israeli forces killed five Palestinians early Sunday in armed confrontations in the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli officials. They said the gunbattles occurred during a series of raids intended to thwart a terrorist attack on Israeli civilians.
Two Israeli soldiers were also severely wounded in one of the shootouts. The military said it was investigating whether they were hurt by Israeli fire.
The military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that holds sway in the coastal territory of Gaza, claimed three of the dead as its members. Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- an extremist group backed by Iran -- claimed a fourth as its "martyr."
The raids took place simultaneously in the Jenin area in the northern West Bank and in a central area between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesperson, said the overnight raids in five locations were carried out by an undercover army unit and special police counterterrorism forces.
The armed men who were killed and an additional four who were apprehended were all part of a network that was planning terrorist attacks, he said. Shefler did not elaborate on those plans, citing operational needs and restrictions.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the armed men "were about to carry out terrorist attacks in real time."
"The soldiers and commanders in the field acted as expected. They engaged the enemy and we back them completely," Bennett added.
The office of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited control in parts of the West Bank, denounced what it called the "murder" and "field executions" of the Palestinians by Israeli security forces. Abbas, who is highly unpopular, has come under criticism of late from Hamas and other Palestinians for increasing engagement and security coordination with Israel's new government.
Sunday's events came four months after a fierce cross-border air war between Israel and the militant groups in the Gaza Strip, when Hamas, a chief rival of the Palestinian Authority and a sworn enemy of Israel, presented itself as the defender of the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.