JERUSALEM - Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank early Sunday in separate clashes that erupted as they carried out fresh arrests in the hunt for three missing teenagers.
Their deaths raised to four the number of Palestinians killed since the Israeli army began a vast search for the three young students who disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank. Israel accuses Hamas militants of kidnapping them.
Israel has said the objective of "Operation Brother's Keeper" is to bring the teens home safe while dealing a crushing blow to the West Bank infrastructure of its Islamist nemesis.
So far, the army has arrested more than 340 Palestinians, around two thirds of them members of the Islamist movement.
The teens' seizure has been condemned by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who however on Sunday questioned why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not condemned the bloodshed triggered by the manhunt.
"I said the kidnapping was a crime, but does that justify the killing of ... Palestinian teens in cold blood?" Abbas said in an interview with Haaretz newspaper, referring to the deaths of two young Palestinians.
"What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Does he condemn it? Look at what's happened all over the West Bank over the past days, the violence and the destruction of homes," he said.
"Is that justified?" - Mentally unsound
With the search entering its 10th day, clashes broke out in the northern cities of Nablus and Ramallah as troops went in to carry out arrests, sources on both sides said.
Troops in Ein Beit al-Mai refugee camp in western Nablus shot dead 27-year-old Ahmed Fahnawi as he was on his way to a mosque for morning prayers as clashes were taking place.
Palestinian security sources said he was hit by four bullets, while family members told AFP he was mentally challenged.
The Israeli army confirmed firing at a man, saying he had approached troops "in a threatening manner". When he failed to respond to warning shots fired in the air, they fired towards him.
"Initial inquiry suggests that the suspect was mentally unstable," a military statement said.
Also early on Sunday, Israeli troops shot dead 30-year-old Mohammed Tarifi during clashes that lasted for hours in the centre of Ramallah, the West Bank's political capital, Palestinian medics said.
Five others were also wounded during the incident, they said. The army had no immediate comment.
In West Bank clashes earlier in the week, troops shot dead two young Palestinians and a third was left fighting for his life.
On Monday, troops in Jalazun camp near Ramallah shot dead 19-year-old Ahmad Arafat Sabarin, and on Friday, Mohammed Dudin, 14, was killed in Dura near Hebron.
Another 20-year-old Palestinian who was shot during clashes at Qalandiya near Ramallah is fighting for his life in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital.
No 'credible' evidence
Israel has seized on the opportunity afforded by the operation to try to drive a wedge between Abbas and Hamas, who recently agreed on an interim government of technocrats, ending seven years of separate administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.
Although Abbas has condemned those behind the teens' disappearance, he said he had seen no evidence Hamas was responsible, as Israel claims.
"I have no credible information that Hamas was behind the kidnapping," Abbas told Haaretz.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes struck targets in southern and central Gaza overnight after three rockets struck southern Israel during the evening, an army statement said.
Since the teenagers disappeared, Gaza militants have fired more than 22 rockets at Israel. Of these, 11 struck Israeli territory, three were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the rest landed in Palestinian territories, the army said.
Also on Sunday, troops caught "a Palestinian terrorist armed with a hand grenade" inside southern Israel, who is believed to have managed to cross the fence from Gaza, the army said.