RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during an early morning raid in a West Bank refugee camp on Monday, hours before negotiators met for another round of peace talks, Palestinian sources said.
Israeli border police said they entered the Qalandiya camp, near Jerusalem, to arrest a man and were confronted by a crowd throwing firebombs and rocks.
Witnesses said the Israeli forces opened fire and hospital officials told Reuters three men were killed.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, said one of its employees, a 34-year-old father of four, was among the dead.
“Credible reports say that (Robeen Zayed) was on his way to work and was not engaged in any violent activity. He was shot in the chest,” said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.
A military spokeswoman confirmed that troops had been shot at and returned fire in self-defence. She added that the forces arrested the man they had come to detain.
“Large, violent crowds which significantly outnumber security forces leave no other choice but to resort to live fire for self defence,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, another military spokesman, said.
The riot had become “so large and violent that it was vital for forces to assist in containing it,” he added.
An Israeli security source said an investigation had showed live fire was only directed towards rioters.
The U.S.-brokered peace talks carried on after the clashes, though no details emerged of the discussions.
Talks resumed last month after a three-year stalemate caused by Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967 which Palestinians seek for a state along with the Gaza Strip.
Neither party has expressed much optimism for a major breakthrough and the negotiators have met largely in secret, alternating between Israeli and Palestinian locations.
Thousands of residents of the tightly-packed camp, later carried the three men’s bodies, draped in Palestinian flags with their heads wrapped in traditional black and white chequered scarves, in a funeral procession that wound its way through its narrow alleyways.
Around ten masked Palestinian militants fired their automatic weapons into the air in salute.
After the funeral, dozens of local youths threw stones towards Israeli soldiers at the Qalandiya checkpoint, a main crossing between the West Bank and Jerusalem, and they were met with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.
Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described the killings as “assassinations”.
“The series of Israel crimes and new settlement tenders constitute a clear message on the real Israeli intentions towards the peace process, and there will be negative consequences to these actions,” he said in a statement.
The Israeli police arrested a local man who had previously served a nine-year prison sentence for alleged militant activity, residents said. About a dozen protesters were wounded in the clash, they added.
Israeli troops often enter Palestinian-controlled territory to detain people suspected of planning attacks, usually conducting the raids during darkness to minimize confrontation.
Violence in the West Bank has worsened since the beginning of 2013.
With Monday’s deaths, Israeli forces have killed 14 Palestinians there this year, most of them in clashes, compared with three fatalities in the same period in 2012, according to United Nations figures.
Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Ori Lewis and Andrew Heavens