Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters from an armoured vehicle during an ongoing military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

JENIN, Palestinian Territories: Jenin refugee camp, one of the most crowded and impoverished in the West Bank, is synonymous with Palestinian militancy and resistance against Israel which views it as a “terrorism” hub.

In recent years it has been the site of fierce fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.

This week, Israel launched what it called an “extensive counterterrorism effort” targeting the camp, which has so far killed 10 Palestinians and wounded dozens more.

Refuge for displaced Palestinians

The camp was established in 1953 to house some of those among the 760,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948 when Israel was created, an event Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe”.

Today some 18,000 people live in the camp in the northern West Bank. It is just 0.43 square kilometres (0.16 of a square mile) in size, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Over time, the camp’s original tents have been replaced by concrete, and it now resembles something closer to a neighbourhood.

A symbol of Palestinian resistance

Jenin camp resident Zakaria Zubeidi rose to be a senior figure in the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

For years, he operated out of the camp and was on Israel’s most-wanted list.

Zubeidi escaped from Israel’s Gilboa prison with five other Palestinians in 2021, sparking a days-long manhunt, and he is lauded by Palestinians as a hero. He is still alive and in jail.

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In 2022, Raad Hazem, another resident of the camp, killed three Israelis in a shooting spree in Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street nightlife district, before being shot dead after a massive manhunt.

Images of Hazem, Zubeidi and those dubbed “martyrs” by the Palestinians after they were killed by Israeli forces plaster the camp’s walls and hang from the archways which mark the entrance to the camp’s narrow streets.

The 2002 battle for Jenin

The camp was a hive of activity during the second “intifada” or uprising of the early 2000s.

In 2002, the army besieged the camp for more than a month amid fierce fighting that killed 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers.

More than 400 homes were destroyed in the operation, according to UNRWA, and more than a quarter of the camp’s population was left homeless.

Shireen Abu Akleh killed

Veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed on May 11, 2022 while covering an Israeli raid on the camp for Al Jazeera television, sparking international condemnation.

The Israeli army later admitted one of its soldiers probably shot the reporter - who was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest marked “Press” - having mistaken her for a militant.

Deteriorating security

Over the past 18 months, the security situation in the camp has deteriorated, with the Palestinian Authority having little real presence there. Israel’s military says that at least 50 shooting attacks have originated from in and around Jenin so far this year.

The deadly attacks on Israeli targets have prompted a fierce response, with Israel’s forces carrying out a string of raids on the flashpoint refugee camp in the first half of 2023.

Israel says “The Jenin Brigade”, a local group it alleges is backed by Iran and counts members of Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, Islamic jihad and Fatah within its ranks, is behind the attacks.