Man killed in rare clash between Palestinian security forces and gunmen

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) -A Palestinian was killed in a rare clash between Palestinian security forces and gunmen in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, amid uncertainty over the future of Palestinian leadership that has widened internal rifts.

Separately, Israeli police said a minor they suspected of carrying out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem was shot and killed in the latest episode in a months-long surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israel has stepped up military raids in Palestinian self-ruled areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Palestinian fighters have become increasingly assertive, challenging the internationally backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

Witnesses said a man was killed in the West Bank town of Tulkarm after Palestinian security forces arrived to free up roads to its refugee camp, which gunmen had blocked as a precaution against Israeli incursions. The PA said residents had complained that the obstacles endangered passersby and a school.

In the ensuing gunfight, a 25-year-old Palestinian man, described by locals as unaffiliated with the PA or militants, was shot dead. Further details on the circumstances were not immediately clear.

Several gunmen posted a video accusing the PA of his killing. "We will not keep silent about this act, which aids the occupation forces in arresting and chasing the youths and those (on Israel's) wanted list," one of the gunmen said.

The PA, contacted by Reuters, had no immediate response to the militants' accusations.

Talal Dweikat, spokesperson for the PA security services, said gunmen had opened fire at the forces, "prompting security forces to intervene, taking necessary measures to restore order".

PA security services launched an investigation into the incident and requested an autopsy, the official WAFA news agency reported. Palestinian human rights activists called for an independent inquiry.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which governs Israeli-blockaded Gaza and recently has stepped up its challenge to PA rule in the West Bank, condemned the Tulkarm killing and said accountability was needed "to preserve internal peace in the face of the occupation".

President Mahmoud Abbas has rebuffed repeated demands from the Palestinian public to step down during his two decades in power. The 87-year-old has named no favoured heir, with U.S.-sponsored statehood talks frozen since 2014.

The PA, set up following the 1990s Oslo interim peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the West Bank. Accused by Israel of being lax towards Palestinian militants, it says Israeli policies have weakened its sway.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids since the latest wave of violence erupted in early 2022.

In the same period, dozens of Israelis have been killed in shootings, stabbings, or car-ramming attacks by Palestinians. Violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians has also surged.

Earlier, the Israeli military said its troops had shot a Palestinian motorist who rammed into them near the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday, injuring a soldier. No details of the Palestinian's condition were immediately released.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; additional reporting and writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mark Heinrich)