JENIN, July 3 (AP) – Israel launched its most intense military operation in nearly two decades in the occupied West Bank on Monday, with a series of drone strikes and dispatched a military force against a militant stronghold. Hundreds of soldiers are on indefinite missions.
At least eight Palestinians were killed and dozens injured.
The crackdown is reminiscent of Israel’s military tactics during the second Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s, when domestic pressure mounted to respond to recent attacks against Israeli settlers, including the shooting that killed four Israelis last month. events) to respond strongly.
The operation took place in the Jenin refugee camp, an area in the northern West Bank that has long been known as a stronghold for militants. The fighting started shortly after midnight and continued until nightfall.
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Throughout the day, black smoke billowed from the crowded streets of the camp, a densely populated neighborhood of about 14,000 people, as firefights continued and drones buzzed overhead. Military bulldozers cleared narrow streets and destroyed buildings to clear the way for Israeli troops.
“Bulldozers have destroyed the streets, snipers are inside houses and on roofs, drones are attacking houses, Palestinians are being killed in the streets,” said Jamal Khuwel, a political activist in the refugee camp. He expects this to happen. The operation will fail.
The army blocked access to and from Jenin, and the city resembled a ghost town. The streets were deserted, with Israeli armored vehicles patrolling. Piles of burning tires and dumpsters littered the traffic circle. Electricity and water supplies were cut off in the camp.
Palestinian youths occasionally throw stones at military vehicles and flee.
Against a backdrop of gunfire and explosions, at least 10 ambulances rushed to overwhelmed local hospitals as relatives checked for loved ones inside. An ambulance arrived with bullet holes in the front.
The incursion was condemned by the Palestinians and by the three Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel – Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – as well as by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank held an emergency meeting late Monday and said they would cease their already limited engagement with Israel. The leaders said security coordination would remain frozen and vowed to step up activity against Israel at the United Nations and international institutions. They also plan to minimize contact with the United States.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unimpressed.
“In recent months, Jenin has become a safe haven for terrorism. We are ending this,” he said. He said troops were destroying militant command centers and confiscating weapons supplies and factories. He claimed the operation “caused minimal harm to civilians”.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the army’s chief spokesman, said there were about 10 airstrikes in total, most aimed at keeping the gunmen away from ground forces. He accused militants of operating near the United Nations, building and storing weapons inside the mosque.
He said Israel launched the operation because some 50 attacks in the past year had come from Jenin.
Neither the prime minister nor Khagari said when the operation would end.
Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Palestine, said on Twitter that she was “shocked by the scale of the Israeli army’s operation” and noted the airstrikes on the densely populated refugee camp. She said the United Nations was mobilizing humanitarian aid.
UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said many camp residents needed food, drinking water and formula milk.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said at least eight Palestinians were killed and 50 were injured, 10 of them seriously. The dead were identified as young men and Palestinian youths, including a 16-year-old boy and two 17-year-old teenagers.
Separately, the ministry said a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The Jenin refugee camp and the neighboring town of the same name have been hot spots since Israeli-Palestinian violence began to escalate in spring 2022.
Israel says it has ramped up its activities because the Palestinian Authority is too weak to keep quiet. It also accuses its arch-rival Iran of funding militant groups involved in the fighting.
Palestinians deny the claims, saying the violence is a natural response to the 56-year occupation, including the Israeli government’s intensified settlement construction and increased violence by Jewish settlers.
Jenin was the main point of friction in the last Palestinian uprising.
In 2002, Israeli troops launched a massive operation in the refugee camp days after a suicide bombing killed 30 Palestinians during a large Passover gathering. For eight days and nights, they fought the militants street by street, using armored bulldozers to destroy rows of houses, many of which were booby-trapped.
Monday’s raid came two weeks after another violent clash in Jenin, including the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl, and the military said two rockets were fired from the area last week.
But there may also be political considerations at play. Key members of Netanyahu’s far-right government, which is dominated by West Bank settlers and their supporters, have called for a broader military response to the ongoing violence in the region, notably the June 20 shootings in Jewish settlements The incident left four dead. Eli.
“Proud of our heroes on all fronts, especially those who fought in Jenin this morning,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gavier, an ultra-nationalist, tweeted. Israel recently called on Israel to kill thousands of militants if necessary. “Pray for their success.”
Israeli military experts said they expected the operation to end within a day or two. The prolonged violence and heavy casualties could draw more criticism from the international community and draw militants from the Gaza Strip and even Lebanon into the fight.
The militant group Islamic Jihad, which has a large presence in Jenin, has threatened to attack from its Gaza stronghold if the fighting continues. The militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon also issued a threat, saying that the Palestinians “have many options and means to make the enemy regret their actions”. In 2006, Hezbollah waged a month-long war with Israel.
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank this year, part of a more than year-long surge in violence that has seen the worst bloodshed in the region in nearly two decades.
Israel said the attack was aimed at repelling the militants. Palestinians say the violence is inevitable in the absence of any political process with Israel, West Bank settlement construction and increased violence by extremist settlers.
Israel said most of those killed were militants, but young people who threw stones to protest the invasion also died, as did those not involved in the confrontation.
In the 1967 Middle East War, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The territories are sought by the Palestinians to establish what they want as an independent state. (Associated Press)
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