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Two Israeli soldiers killed in gun attack near West Bank settlement

Two other people were injured, including another soldier who was critically wounded.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in a gun attack near a West Bank settlement.

The Israeli military said a Palestinian gunman got out of a car and opened fire at a bus stop before speeding away.

Two other people were injured, including another soldier who was critically wounded.

The deaths extend a violent week that began with a shooting outside a West Bank settlement on Sunday, resulting in the death of a baby who was delivered prematurely.

While the West Bank experiences occasional deadly violence, often between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters, much of the Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months has been limited to the Gaza Strip, where some 175 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in border protests.

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Israeli soldiers are investigating the attack in the West Bank (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

“In recent days, we definitely feel like the situation (in the West Bank) is getting worse,” Shalom Galil, a paramedic who assisted at the scene of the shooting, said.

Following the attack, Israel set up checkpoints at the entrances to the West Bank city of Ramallah, searching cars entering the city and checking drivers’ IDs. Some Israeli-controlled roads were completely blocked to Palestinian traffic.

The clampdown on the city, the Palestinians’ economic and administrative centre, was an unusual step that signalled the severity with which Israel viewed the violent flare-up.

Walid Whadan, spokesman of the Palestinian civil affairs ministry, said Israel had not taken such measures in Ramallah since the second Palestinian uprising that ended more than a decade ago.

Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the gunman fled toward Ramallah and that the measures were also meant to prevent additional attacks. “We know that when there is one attack there may be others,” he told reporters.

He said the army was bolstering its forces in the West Bank with a focus on securing roads and launching a “massive manhunt” for the Palestinian gunman.

Mr Conricus declined to comment on whether there was a connection between Thursday’s shooting and the attack earlier this week, but he said the army was “investigating such theories,” and responding to the current “environment of incitement” in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the latest round of violence, criticising both militant attacks and the tough Israeli response.

In a statement, he accused Israel of creating a “climate” conducive to violence through its frequent military operations in Palestinian cities. He also accused Israel of incitement against him.

“This atmosphere created by the frequent Israeli raids of the cities, and the incitement against the president and the absence of the peace hopes, lead to this series of violence that both people are paying the price for,” he said.

Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians claim the territories for their hoped-for state.

The latest shooting came hours after Israeli security forces tracked down and killed a Palestinian accused of killing two Israelis.

Israeli police said Ashraf Naalweh was found armed near the West Bank city of Nablus and was killed during a raid.

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A Palestinian boy looks at the damage after an Israeli raid killed Ashraf Naalweh (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Israel accuses Naalweh of shooting to death two Israelis and wounding another at an attack on a West Bank industrial zone in October. He fled the scene and Israeli forces have been searching for him since.

“Israel’s long arm will reach anyone who harms Israeli citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Police said it had made a number of arrests in its attempt to hunt down Naalweh and suspected he was planning on carrying out another attack.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed Salah Barghouti, a Palestinian suspect wanted over a drive-by shooting earlier this week at a West Bank bus stop.

In Sunday night’s attack, assailants in a Palestinian vehicle opened fire at a bus stop outside a West Bank settlement, wounding seven people, including a 21-year-old pregnant woman, before speeding away.

The militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip said that both Barghouti and Naalweh were its members but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attacks the two carried out.

“The flame of resistance in the (West) Bank will remain alive until the occupation is defeated on all our land,” Hamas said.

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