Jenin: The Israeli army launched drone strikes in the occupied West Bank area of Jenin Monday as part of an “extensive counterterrorism effort” that the Palestinian health ministry said killed eight residents.
The operation comes two weeks after an Israeli army raid in Jenin refugee camp left seven people dead, and saw rare use of helicopter missile fire.
Israel has stepped up operations in the northern West Bank, home to Jenin city and its adjacent refugee camp, which is a stronghold of Palestinian armed groups and where there has been a spate of attacks on Israelis as well as attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian communities.
The Palestinian health ministry said that in Monday’s operation eight people were killed and 50 injured.
“There is bombing from the air and an invasion from the ground,” Mahmoud Al Saadi, director of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Jenin, told AFP.
“Several houses and sites have been bombed... smoke is rising from everywhere.”
The Israeli army said its forces had struck a “joint operations centre”, which served as a command post for the “Jenin Brigade”, a local armed group.
The area is nominally under the control of president Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative control in the West Bank.
The army said the early-Monday operation targeted an “observation and reconnaissance” site, as well as a weapons storage facility and a hideout for those alleged to have carried out attacks on Israeli targets in recent months.
Violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has worsened since early last year, including under the latest administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which took power in December, a coalition between his Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.
Netanyahu’s coalition contains hardline settlers, including extreme-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Caught ‘by surprise’
“People were aware that we were probably going in but the method of striking from the air and our target was right in the core of the camp basically caught them by surprise,” army spokesman Richard Hecht told reporters in an online briefing.
“We are still inside the camp. We are still seizing weapons and ammunitions” and “infrastructure”
He said the army was after “specific targets” and “not trying to hold ground.”
There was no specific timeline as to when the ongoing operation would end, Hecht said, adding its primary focus is on the Jenin camp.
“The aerial platforms were UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Hecht said, adding it was a “brigade level” operation.
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 who live in settlements considered illegal under international law.
The Palestinians, who seek their own independent state, want Israel to withdraw from all land it occupied in the Six-Day War and to dismantle all Jewish settlements.
However, Netanyahu has pledged to “strengthen settlements” and has expressed no interest in reviving peace talks, which have been moribund since 2014.
In a separate incident a Palestinian youth was also killed by Israeli fire near the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said in a statement that “all options are open to strike the enemy (Israel) in response to its aggression in Jenin”.
In the raid last month, two 15-year-olds and at least one fighter were among the seven killed. The raid saw helicopter missile fire as part of efforts to clear the way for Israeli troops who encountered strong resistance including an explosive device which hit an armoured vehicle.
Following that raid, four Israelis were killed when two Palestinian gunmen attacked a petrol station near the West bank settlement of Eli. The assailants were shot dead.
In response, Netanyahu’s office said his government would fast-track settlement expansion at Eli, despite repeated calls by the United Nations for Israel to halt such construction.
That same week, the Israeli military said they killed three members of a “terrorist cell” in a rare West Bank drone strike.
Since the start of the year at least 182 Palestinians, 25 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian have been killed, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources from both sides.
They include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians and three members of the Arab minority.