Israeli troops kill 9 in West Bank raid, Palestinians say
Israeli officials say militants fired 2 rockets from Gaza early Friday, further escalating tensions
Israeli forces killed at least nine Palestinians, including a 60-year-old woman, and wounded several others during a raid in a flashpoint area of the occupied West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian health officials said, in the deadliest day in years in the territory. Israeli officials said two rockets were fired from Gaza early Friday, further escalating tensions.
The Israeli military said both were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system. It was the first such attack from the militant Hamas-ruled territory since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a far-right government that has pledged a tough line against Palestinian militancy.
The violence occurred during what Palestinian health officials described as a fierce operation in broad daylight in the Jenin refugee camp, a militant stronghold of the West Bank that has been a focus of nearly a year of Israeli arrest raids. The conflict spiked this month, with 29 Palestinians killed since the start of the year.
After a security briefing, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant directed forces in the occupied West Bank and on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip to go on heightened alert.
Hours after the raid, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday's raid. Israel's paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Palestinian Authority to halt security co-operation
The Palestinian Authority said hours later it would halt the security co-operation that has solidified the authority's hold over the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority maintains security ties with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants, and severing them raises fears that attacks by militant groups might not be prevented.
It has tried such a move before as a form of protest with little success, in part because of the benefits the leadership enjoys from the relationship and also due to U.S. and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
Barbara Leaf, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and said civilian casualties reported in Jenin were "quite regrettable." But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security co-operation with Israel was a mistake.
"Obviously, we don't think this is the right step to take at this moment," she told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was already set to visit the region beginning Sunday, a trip the State Department confirmed Thursday would include separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Anger, mourning in Palestinian territories
The fighting comes weeks into Israel's new government, its most right-wing ever, which has pledged to take a hard line against the Palestinians and ramp up settlement construction on lands the Palestinian seek for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli military said it was conducting the rare daytime operation because of intelligence it had received that a militant grouping linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has a major foothold in the camp, was set to carry out imminent attacks against Israelis.
Images published by Palestinian media showed the charred exterior walls of a two-storey building and cinderblocks and other debris scattered on a 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 milled about inspecting the damage.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics were struggling to reach the wounded amid the fighting. She also 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 out of hospital rooms and into the corridor. The military said tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from the clashes nearby.
Hamas' armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad said three others belonged to the group. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas' secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
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.
Abbas declared three days of mourning and ordered flags to fly at half-mast. Palestinian officials called on the international community to speak out.
UN envoy 'deeply alarmed'
The United Nations Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was "deeply alarmed and saddened" by the violence and called for calm. Condemnations also came from Turkey, Jordan and the Islamic militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip.
Tensions over violence in the West Bank have in the past spilled into Gaza.
"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 last year, making 2022 the deadliest since 2004, according to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians claim for their hoped-for state.