Over 10,000 Palestinians, including dozens of armed gunmen, took part Saturday afternoon in the funerals of three Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the early morning in the Jenin refugee camp.
The crowd called for Palestinian unity and vengeance, as well as an end to Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised the operation, saying it was “an important preventative (operation) which foiled a planned terrorist attack that was meant to be carried out against Israeli targets, and thus saved lives.”
In a rare joint statement, the three main Palestinian militant groups — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – warned of retribution against Israel and against the Palestinian Authority leadership for allegedly cooperating with Israel.
“The resistance in the West Bank is alive and won’t die, and the Zionist enemy can’t guess from where the resistance will attack. The blood of Jenin Martyrs won’t go in vain,” the groups said.
The Palestinian Authority bears “equal responsibility” along with Israel for the violence in Jenin, they said, adding that “our people won’t forgive the Palestinian security apparatuses for this crime.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office condemned the IDF operation, calling it “part of an Israeli policy that aims to destroy everything,” and asked the American administration to intervene to save the peace talks. Abbas said the Israeli action was “despicable” and “intolerable.”
Saturday’s incident started with an Israeli raid, which the military said aimed to arrest Hamza Abu al-Hija, a 22-year-old Hamas operative wanted for involvement in shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner described al-Hija as a “ticking bomb” and said he was in the final stages of planning a major terror attack against Israelis.
Palestinians officials said the military ringed the house where al-Hija was hiding in the Jenin refugee camp overnight and ordered al-Hija outside. When he refused to come out, the soldiers stormed the building and a shootout ensued.
Lerner said everyone but al-Hija had left the building before the shootout. The military said al-Hija first shot an army dog that was sent inside and then opened fire on the troops outside, wounding two soldiers. When he attempted to escape while still shooting at the Israeli troops, they returned fire and killed him, Lerner said.
Within minutes, hundreds of angry residents and gunmen gathered and attacked the soldiers. The troops opened fire in self-defense, killing two Palestinians and wounding several more, Lerner said. (The military initially said three Palestinians were killed in that shootout but later revised the number to two.)
The two dead men were Islamic Jihad operative Mahmud Abu Zeina, 25, and Yazen Jabarin, 22 — who was characterized as a civilian in some news reports, and as a member of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in others. The IDF maintained that both men had attacked the soldiers.
Ya’alon commended the “determined” and “professional” actions of the Israeli forces, who he said were operating in an extremely complex environment.
Shortly after Al-Hija’s death, Hamas released a poster honoring him as a martyr.
الشهيد القسامي حمزة أبو الهيجا pic.twitter.com/Ou94Whz7E0
— خبر عاجل – #غزة (@GazaNews_Brk) March 22, 2014
Al-Hija was the son of Hamas leader Jamal al-Hija, one of the longest serving prisoners being held in Israel for direct involvement in second intifada terrorist attacks. He was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to nine life sentences for involvement in at least six bombings, including the Meron Junction attack that killed nine Israelis in 2002 and the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria bombing that killed 15 in 2001.
From his prison cell, the father praised his son’s “heroism” and “blessed his confrontation with occupation forces until his last bullet,” adding that he prayed in prison for his martyrdom.
AFP contributed to this report.