Israel kills 9 Palestinians in West Bank air strikes -medics

By Ali Sawafta

TULKARM, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli air strikes killed nine Palestinians in two areas of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, medics said, and the Israeli military described at least five of the dead as militants suspected of planning an imminent attack.

Among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, the West Bank has seen a surge of violence in parallel to the Gaza war that erupted on Oct. 7 with a shock cross-border killing and kidnapping spree by Islamist Hamas militants in southern Israel.

An air strike on a car in Balata, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, killed five members of a local cell of militants that planned a large-scale attack on Israelis, the military said in a statement.

It gave the name of the cell leader, who was among the dead, as Abdullah Abu Shalal. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction said five of its members were in the car, including Abu Shalal.

Hours later, an air strike in the central West Bank city of Tulkarm killed four Palestinians, medics said. The military spokesperson confirmed that an operation was under way in Tulkarm but did not immediately provide details.

Deadly bloodshed had been worsening in the West Bank even before the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel from Gaza, which triggered an all-out Israeli military offensive in Gaza aimed at wiping out the enclave's ruling group.

In the three months since then, Israeli forces have killed at least 360 West Bank Palestinians, according to a statement by the Palestinian health ministry on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; writing by Clauda Tanios; editing by Jacqueline Wong, Christopher Cushing and Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)