Israel's brutal raid on Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin causes humanitarian crisis
Jenin, Occupied West Bank - Israel's biggest military operation for years in the occupied West Bank continued for a second day Tuesday, leaving at least 10 Palestinians dead and forcing thousands to flee their homes as the government said it struck "with great strength" the militant stronghold.
The raid, launched under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government, targeted the northern city of Jenin and employed armored vehicles, army bulldozers, and drone strikes.
On Tuesday morning, shops were shuttered in Jenin, with very few people on the streets littered with debris and burned roadblocks from the previous day's fighting. Drones hummed overhead, an AFP reporter said.
In the city's refugee camp – an urban community that was home to 18,000 people – multiple streets were ripped up leaving broken electricity cables, oil, and pools of water apparently after an Israeli anti-bomb bulldozer passed.
The Israeli army said its "counterterrorism activities" in Jenin had continued overnight into Tuesday, with forces acting to "neutralize" an underground shaft used to store explosives in the refugee camp.
"Furthermore, IDF soldiers located and dismantled two operational situation rooms belonging to terrorist organisations in the area," the army said in a Tuesday statement, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.
Prior to this operation Israel had already stepped up raids in the northern West Bank, which has seen a recent spate of attacks on Israelis as well as Jewish settler violence targeting Palestinians. Israeli-Palestinian violence has worsened since last year, and escalated further under the Netanyahu coalition government that includes extreme-right allies.
"In the last five years, this is the worst raid," Qasem Benighader, a nurse at a hospital morgue said, noting "many" patients with bullet wounds and injuries from explosives.
Thousands of Palestinians flee their homes
Army spokesperson Daniel Hagari told reporters that Israeli troops did "not intend to stay in the camp," but "we are getting ready for the more severe situation" of prolonged fighting.
A total of 10 people were killed and 100 others wounded, 20 of them seriously, the Palestinian health ministry said.
A wounded Israeli soldier was evacuated by military helicopter.
Since the start of the operation about 3,000 people had fled their homes in the Jenin refugee camp, deputy governor of Jenin, Kamal Abu al-Roub told AFP, adding arrangements were being made to house them in schools and other shelters in Jenin city.
In the Monday night darkness, women carried their youngest children while older ones lugged belongings through the streets.
Jenin resident Badr Shagoul told AFP: "I saw them taking bulldozers into the camp, they were destroying buildings... These were people's homes."
The army said soldiers and gunmen had exchanged fire at a mosque in the camp, and weapons and explosives were later found in the building.
Another camp resident, Mahmoud Hawashin, predicted that "if there is more Palestinian blood shed, there will be more Israeli blood shed."
The United Nations says Jenin camp has "one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty" among West Bank camps, and the military operation disrupted water and electricity to "large areas" of it.
Israeli attack raises international concerns
Netanyahu said Israeli forces in "the nest of terrorists in Jenin" were "destroying command centers and seizing considerable weaponry".
Israel was striking "with great strength," Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told reporters.
The Palestinian foreign ministry called the escalation "an open war against the people of Jenin."
The Jenin area is nominally controlled by president Mahmud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative control in the West Bank.
The ruling Fatah party declared a general strike affecting private businesses and other sectors, and which saw all Palestinian Authority employees remaining home.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "deeply concerned" about the violence, and called for the respect of international humanitarian law, a spokesperson said in a statement.
Neighboring Jordan raised similar concerns and the United Arab Emirates urged "the immediate halt of repeated and escalating campaigns against the Palestinian people."
The United States said ally Israel had a right to "defend its people against... terrorist groups" but called for protection of civilians.
Israeli government threatens to "strengthen settlements"
The Arab League was to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss "an Arab mobilization to counter the Israeli attack on Jenin."
On Monday the army said it had struck a "joint operations center" of a group called the Jenin Brigade, a weapons depot, an "observation and reconnaissance" site, and a hideout for alleged attackers of Israeli targets.
In the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, protesters burned tires near the border fence with Israel.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967. Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, the territory is now home to around 490,000 Israelis in settlements considered illegal under international law.
The Palestinians, who seek their own independent state, want Israel to withdraw from all land it seized in 1967 and to dismantle all Jewish settlements.
Netanyahu, however, has pledged to "strengthen settlements" and expressed no interest in reviving peace talks, moribund since 2014.
At least 187 Palestinians, 25 Israelis, one Ukrainian, and one Italian have been killed this year, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources from both sides.
The numbers compare with at least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in all of 2022. Most were in the West Bank.
Cover photo: REUTERS