JENIN, West Bank: 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 West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian health officials said, in the deadliest day in years in the territory.
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. It was not immediately clear how many of those killed Thursday were affiliated with armed groups.
The fighting comes weeks into Israel’s new government, its most right-wing ever, which has pledged to take a hardline against the Palestinians and ramp up colony construction on lands the Palestinian seek for their hoped-for state.
It also comes days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive in the region and push for steps that might improve daily life for the Palestinians.
Rare daytime operation
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. A gun battle erupted, during which the military said it targeted the militants. At least one of the dead was identified by Palestinians as a militant.
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 paediatric 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.
Israel's army denied the Palestinian claim that soldiers deliberately fired tear gas at a hospital..
"No one shot tear gas on purpose at a hospital," an army spokesman told AFP. "But the activity was not far away from the hospital and it is possible some tear gar entered through an open window."
Jenin hospital identified the woman killed as Magda Obaid and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death. The Palestinian Health Ministry earlier identified another one of the dead as Saeb Azriqi, 24, who was brought to a hospital in critical condition after being shot, and died from his wounds.
And 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, Ezz Al Deen Salahat, as a fighter. The ministry said at least 20 people were wounded.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, condemned the violence, calling on the international community to speak out against it.
Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, told The Associated Press the military prevented medical teams from evacuating the wounded and fired tear gas that seeped into the government hospital, affecting infants and interrupting surgeries. The military said forces closed roads to facilitate their operation, which may have complicated the efforts of rescue teams to reach the wounded.
“We ask that the international community help the Palestinians against this extremist right-wing government and protect our citizens,” he said.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have soared since Israel launched the raids last spring, following a spate of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people, while another round of attacks later in the year brought the death toll to 30.
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. So far this year, and not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation.