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2 Palestinians killed in West Bank, one by local gunmen

JERUSALEM Two Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the state Palestinian news agency said. It initially blamed both deaths on Israeli troops conducting arrest raids, but later reported that Palestinian gunmen were suspected in another of the deaths.

The Israeli military said troops traded fire with Palestinian gunmen in the Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank if they visited arrest a wanted Palestinian. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that Samer Khaled, 25, died of a gunshot wound.

The state Palestinian news agency, Wafa, initially said he was killed by Israeli troops but later reported that Palestinian authorities had arrested three people suspected in his death.

Witnesses had earlier reported he was shot by a number of Palestinian gunmen following the Israeli troops left the region. They spoke on condition of anonymity for concern with retribution.

The military said troops also came under fire and shot back throughout a raid in el-Bireh, near Ramallah, where in fact the Palestinian Authority is headquartered. Wafa said Yazan Afaneh, 26, was killed by Israeli fire.

Israel has been conducting near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank since March, driving up tensions. Israel began the raids following a group of deadly attacks earlier this season by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people.

A large number of Palestinians have already been killed because the start of year, most of them militants or Palestinians involved with clashes with Israeli forces, the military says. However the rising figure includes several civilians, including a veteran journalist and an attorney who apparently drove unwittingly right into a battle zone.

Israel captured the West Bank, combined with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek the territories for another independent state.

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