At least eight dead as Israel launches one of its biggest military operations in the West Bank in years

At least eight Palestinians have been killed in raids by Israeli forces on the Palestinian city of Jenin, one of the largest incursions into the occupied West Bank in 20 years.

More than 50 people were injured in the attack that included airstrikes, with the death toll likely to rise, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel targeted what it described as a “unified command center” for the militarism of the Jenin Brigades in the densely populated refugee camp in the city.

Israel says its forces found explosives during a search of a mosque. In a statement, the Israeli Defense Forces said soldiers found “explosive devices, weapons and military equipment” that claimed to be affiliated with terrorist organizations in the area.

But residents of the area, which has been at the heart of an escalating spiral of violence over the last year, were told The Independents that civilian infrastructure has been a hit.

They described being shaken awake at midnight by the bombing before seeing military bulldozers charge through the neighborhood. Israeli military confirmed to The Independents that it had struck Jenin refugee camp with aircraft, reviving for the first time a tactic it had largely halted during the past two decades since the Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel’s open-ended occupation.

“It started at midnight with bombing and then large groups of soldiers attacked Jenin from different entrances simultaneously. Later they used bulldozers to cut a path through the neighborhood,” Mustafa Sheta, director of Jenin’s Freedom Theater and community center told The Independents. He said his theater – a well-known community and cultural center – had been damaged by projectiles which landed nearby while civilians from the area were sheltering there.

“Bulldozers came to the street either side of the theater – we don’t know the extent of the damage,” he added. He said he understood snipers had been deployed to the top of adjacent buildings. The Israeli military denied a direct attack on the theater saying it was only hitting military targets, and shared drone footage on Twitter which appeared to show the theater intact.

For more than a year, army raids in cities like Jenin have been linked to a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israelis and raids by settler mobs against Palestinian villages. The Israeli military said it was striking “terrorist infrastructure targets and armed gunmen in the Jenin camp” and shared a document claiming Jenin was a “stronghold of terrorist activity”, where 50 per cent of the population are affiliated to militant groups.

Israeli drones fly over Jenin during the military operation (Reuters)

Israeli drones fly over Jenin during the military operation (Reuters)

Hamas, which governs in Gaza, said on Monday that it was ready to intervene if Israel goes too far and “persists in its aggression” in Jenin.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have said that the Jenin refugee camp has been at the center of Israel’s escalating military crackdown. The group said Israel is “recklessly endangering desperate and marginalized people” in its operations.

“There’s already been a frightening toll of Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries from Israel’s military assaults this year, and once again the Israeli military is recklessly endangering desperate and marginalized people,” Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s crisis response manager, said.

“Coming after Israel’s massive five-day offensive in Gaza in May, the Jenin attack seems to show that the Israeli military is increasingly abandoning what little restraint it previously had and willfully endangering the lives of Palestinian civilians, including children, older people and people with disabilities,” he added.

Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the camp last May, and “its residents continue to be subjected to relentless military raids which amount to collective punishment”, said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director in a report in January.

Palestinians described Monday’s operation as a “real war” and an “invasion”.

“People were expecting something to happen, the hospitals were asking for donations,” said Sarah Abu al-Rob, a Palestinian journalist from Jenin. “This is an invasion and a siege, for the first time since 2002 the camp is surrounded,” she added.

A Palestinian ambulance driver, Khaled Alahmad, said: “There were strikes from the sky targeting the camp, every time we drive in, around five to seven ambulances and we come back full of injured people,” he added.

Palestinians said electricity was cut off across the refugee camp. And the military blocked roads and took over houses and buildings, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“The humanitarian situation is very difficult and is getting worse. All the roads are closed, no ambulances, vehicles or people are allowed to pass into the camp or inside its alleyways,” said Mahmoud al-Saadi, director of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Jenin. “The streets and infrastructure are completely destroyed, the water and electricity are cut all across the camp.”

Until June 21, when it carried out a strike near Jenin, the Israeli military had not used drone strikes in the West Bank since 2006. But the growing scale of the violence meant such tactics may continue, a military spokesperson said. Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant said the operation was “proceeding as planned”, but gave no indication when the incursion would end. Fighting was continuing by mid-afternoon local time, some 14 hours after Israel entered the camp.

An Israeli military spokesperson said the operation would last as long as needed and suggested forces could remain for an extended period. “It could take hours, but it could also take days. We are focused on our goals,” he said.

The Israeli military said that a brigade-sized force – roughly 2,000 soldiers – was taking part in the operation and that military drones had carried out a series of strikes to clear the way for the ground forces.

Palestinians protest against the invasion (Reuters)

Palestinians protest against the invasion (Reuters)

A spokesperson for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called the operation “a new war crime against our defenseless people”.

The Jenin operation led to protests across the occupied West Bank, including at a checkpoint near the city of Ramallah, where a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire.

Israel’s air defense systems were put on alert for possible rocket fire from the blockaded Gaza Strip after several Palestinian factions vowed retaliation.

“Our Palestinian people will not kneel, will not surrender, will not raise the white flag, and will remain steady on their land in the face of this brutal aggression,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian president, said in a statement .

“We have seen the reports and are monitoring the situation closely,” a White House spokesperson said. “We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.”

More than 140 Palestinians have been killed so far this year by Israeli fire in the West Bank, according to the Associated Press’s count, almost half of them are affiliated with militant groups.

Civilians have also been killed, including a two-year-old in June and a 15-year-old girl in a raid on Jenin camp last week.

Last week, the UN Security Council urged Israel and the Palestinians to avoid actions that could further inflame tensions in the volatile West Bank.

The statement was backed by both the US and Russia in a moment of unity on a divisive issue, reflecting the widespread international concern about the escalating violence, especially by Israeli forces and settlers.

However, on Monday, a White House spokesperson said: “We have seen the reports and are monitoring the situation closely. We support Israel’s security and the right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.”

By badas

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