RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian leaders said peace negotiations were threatened Monday after Israeli security forces fatally shot three Palestinian men during an early-morning clash in the Qalandia refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest incidents in the West Bank since 2009, when three Palestinians were killed in Nablus after a stand-off with Israeli forces. Besides the three dead in the new incident, 15 were wounded and six were in critical condition in Ramallah hospitals, according to Palestinian officials.
A senior Palestinian Authority member said a gathering set for Monday, as part of the U.S.-led peace negotiations, was postponed to protest the killings.
Citing a pledge to keep talks secret, Israeli officials declined to say if a meeting was set or canceled. State Department spokeswoman Mari Harf told Reuters, "I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled."
The incident began when the Israeli border patrol members, in civilian cars and clothing, arrived before dawn in the tough Qalandia refugee camp at the southern edge of Ramallah to arrest a "terror operative," according to military officials.
As officers were searching for a man named Yossif Khatib, recently released from prison, young men who had been alerted to their presence arrived to confront them, followed by Israeli soldiers assisting the border patrol, eyewitnesses and Israeli military spokesmen said.
Israel's military said the Palestinians threw concrete blocks and rocks, posing an imminent threat. "Large, violent crowds such as this, which significantly outnumber security forces, leave no other choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman.
Palestinians said the Israelis acted with excessive force.
At the funeral for the three dead, Palestinian leaders and angry residents said they believed that the Israelis provoked the attack by arriving in the refugee camp in the morning, when people were going to work, school and mosque.
Israeli military officials said the arrest attempt was a "nighttime incursion" that led to a riot. But as video showed and witnesses said, the violence occurred after sunrise.
"It is clear to us that the occupiers do not want a peace process, and so the Israelis create these kinds of incidents," said Mahmoud al-Aloul, Nablus district's former governor and a member of the Fatah political party's central committee.
In the weeks since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to return to the table for talks, both sides have accused the other of trying to derail the process.