Israel hits Jenin in the West Bank; Palestinians say at least 5 have been killed

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JERUSALEM – Israel launched massive air and ground strikes on Jenin early Monday, hitting what it called a militant “operational command center” in another escalation in the occupied West Bank city that is center for the Palestinian armed struggle.

The deadly attacks were the start of a “comprehensive counter-terrorism effort” centered on the densely populated Jenin refugee camp, according to Israeli officials. At least five people were killed and 27 wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The Israel Defense Forces said the attack killed at least seven civilians and that the operation would continue indefinitely.

Another Palestinian was killed by soldiers near the city of Ramallah while protesting the Jenin attack.

“We will do it as long as it is necessary; there is no timeline right now,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an IDF spokesman, told reporters.

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Gunfire, drones and explosions were reported by Jenin residents and in videos posted on social media. Residents said they received text messages from Israeli phone numbers warning them to stay indoors for their own safety. Separate messages aimed at terrorists advised them to “surrender yourself for your safety and the safety of those around you.”

The camp, a garrison in the center of the city, has been the site of frequent IDF attacks targeting terrorists. The fighting has intensified in recent months, including a firefight on June 19 that killed five Palestinians.

The use of aircraft in the attack represents a major military escalation in the North West Bank, where commando-style raids were once the norm. Drones were deployed in combat in June, and then a US-built Apache gunboat was used to help evacuate Israeli soldiers trapped inside the camp, the first time Israel had turned to air power in the West Bank since the revolution known as the second intifada in the early 2000s.

Israeli officials said Monday’s offensive was intended to counter the city’s long-standing role as a base of militant activity. The overcrowded and impoverished Jenin Camp, largely unpoliced ​​by Palestinian Authority security forces, is known as a base of operations for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other armed groups.

“The majority of terrorist attacks against Israelis have come from Jenin,” wrote Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, on Twitter after the strike.

At least 15 attacks carried out against Israeli citizens in recent months were launched from Jenin, according to the IDF, and 19 people who took part in that attack later fled to the camp.

“Our main focus is to break that safe haven mentality,” Hecht said. “We’re not trying to keep up; we are working against specific targets.”

Monday’s Israeli strikes – which included armed drones – began shortly after 1am and destroyed what the IDF said was a militant command and control center, a hub for planning, weapons storage and communications. The building was surrounded by residential blocks and various facilities used by the United Nations agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees.

“Massacres are happening now in the Jenin camp,” Salim Awad, a 34-year-old restaurant worker, said in a telephone interview Monday from a house where 19 Jenin residents were taking shelter. “The children are crying and screaming, afraid of what is happening.

Awad said “a thousand Israeli soldiers” entered the camp just after 1 a.m., with rioters rolling along Seka Street, partially demolishing several buildings. An airstrike destroyed the Freedom Theatre, he said, and he saw a boy with a broken leg.

“His brother was next to him, shouting for him,” he said.

Palestinian officials condemned the attacks, which a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called “a new war crime against our defenseless people.”

Rival militant groups throughout the Territories expressed opposition. “Resistance in all areas will not allow the enemy to attack our people in Jenin or mark them out,” a coalition of groups in Gaza said in a statement.

The IDF also said it was adding to air defense preparations in the southern West Bank in case of rocket fire from Gaza.

Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group that Western countries consider a terrorist group, said in a statement that it would not be deterred by the strikes. “Jenin will not surrender,” said the group, which has a following in the city.

The growing violence has raised fears of a return to the bloody guerrilla war of two decades ago that killed thousands in the region.

The decades-old Jenin camp has one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty among refugee camps in the West Bank, according to the United Nations. Thousands of camp residents are on Israeli watch lists, making them ineligible for work permits.

After the deadly Israeli attack in Jenin, there are fears of escalation in the West Bank

So far 2023 has seen violence in Israel and the occupied territories. Nearly half of the approximately 140 Palestinians killed by Israel in the West Bank between January 1 and the end of June were affiliated with militant groups, the Associated Press reported. But in several cases, children have been killed as Israeli security forces use increasingly aggressive tactics. In March, a 14-year-old boy was killed during an attack in central Jenin, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. In June, a 15-year-old girl was killed in another attack.

At least 23 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians since June, according to a Washington Post tally of media reports and Israeli government figures. Last week, four Israelis were shot by Hamas gunmen at a gas station outside the small Israeli hilltop settlement of Eli. In response, groups of abusive settlers swept through Palestinian towns over several days, burning cars and houses. One resident, a Palestinian American, was killed.

Masih reported from Seoul. Sufian Taha in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza contributed to this report.

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