(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
Jenin Refugee Camp (West Bank)- Israeli forces killed at least nine Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman, and wounded several others in a large-scale raid on Thursday in a flashpoint area of the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials said. It was the deadliest single operation in the territory in two decades.
The Israeli military also fatally shot a 22-year-old Palestinian later in a separate incident.
The raid in the Jenin refugee camp increases the risk of a major flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian fighting days, poses a test for Israel's new hard-line government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's expected trip to the region next week.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, threatened revenge. Violent escalations in the West Bank have previously triggered retaliatory rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces in the West Bank and on the country's border with Gaza went on heightened alert. Protesters poured into the streets across the territory, chanting in solidarity with Jenin, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met top advisers to discuss a response to the raid.
A senior official said the Palestinians were expected to halt security coordination with Israel a move it has tried in the past with little success.
The sides maintain security ties in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Palestinian moves to suspend this coordination have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits it enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement later on Thursday, said the Palestinians also planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
The gunbattle erupted when the Israeli military conducted a rare daytime operation in the refugee camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack against Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
At least one of the dead was identified by Palestinians as a militant, but it was not clear how many others were affiliated with armed groups.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as young Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday's raid.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks. The conflict has only intensified this month, as Israel's far-right government came to office and pledged a hard line against the Palestinians.
Israel's new national security minister, far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who seeks to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, posted a video of himself on Thursday beside the Israeli police chief, beaming triumphantly. He congratulated security forces on a“successful operation,” saying the government gives“backing to our fighters in the war against the terrorists.”
Images in Palestinian media showed the charred exterior of a two-story building and debris on the street. The military said it entered the building in order to detonate explosives it said were being used by the suspects.
After troops withdrew from the area following the three-hour operation, several cars were overturned, their windshields and windows shattered, as residents inspected the damage.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics struggled to reach the wounded during the fighting, while Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the military prevented emergency workers from evacuating the wounded.
Both officials accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video from the hospital showed women carrying children into a hospital corridor.
The military said forces closed roads to facilitate their operation, which may have complicated the efforts of rescue teams, and that tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from the clashes nearby.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death. Health officials identified the eight other dead as men ranging in age from 18 to 40. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade an armed militia affiliated with Fatah, the secular political party that controls the Palestinian Authority claimed one of the dead, Izz al-Din Salahat, as a fighter. The ministry said at least 20 people were wounded.
According to Israeli rights group B'Tselem, May 14, 2021, was the deadliest day in the West Bank since 2002. Thirteen Palestinians were killed that day in various confrontations. But Thursday marked the single bloodiest incursion since 2002, during an intense wave of violence known as the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which left scars still visible in Jenin. Israel launched a massive operation in the Jenin camp, leveling hundreds of buildings in response to a string of suicide bombings.
Palestinians in the refugee camp dug a mass grave for the dead and Abbas declared three days of mourning, ordering flags to fly at half-staff.
“We ask that the international community help the Palestinians against this extremist right-wing government and protect our citizens,” said Rajoub, the Jenin governor.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was“deeply alarmed and saddened” by the violence and urged calm. Condemnations came from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Turkey, which recently reestablished full diplomatic ties with Israel, as well as from neighbouring Jordan and Hamas.
Tensions over violence in the West Bank have spilled into Gaza in the past.
“The response of the resistance to what happened today in Jenin camp will not be delayed,” warned top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.
The Islamic Jihad branch in the coastal enclave has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B'Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. So far this year, not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel's 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim those territories for their hoped-for state.
Israel's new far-right government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and propped up by ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has pledged to put West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its priority list and has already announced punitive steps against the Palestinians for pushing the UN's highest judicial body to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation.
Israel has already established dozens of settlements in the West Bank, which are now home to some 500,000 people.
The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as negotiations to end the conflict have been moribund for more than a decade.
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