2 Palestinian gunmen killed by IDF in West Bank as tense quiet remains on Gaza front

Army says suspects opened fire at troops during raid in Qabatiya; military spokesman says lack of immediate response to deadly airstrikes ‘consequence of surprise action’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, May 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, May 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two Palestinian gunmen were killed by Israeli forces during an overnight raid in the West Bank city of Qabatiya, south of Jenin, the military and Palestinian health officials said early Wednesday, as tensions continued to build a day after Israel launched an offensive against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza.

As Wednesday dawned, a widely expected reprisal attack by the terror group had yet to materialize, despite threats that it would respond to airstrikes a night before that killed three of the group’s senior leaders in Gaza, as well as several others, including women and children.

Troops remained on high alert, and the Israel Defense Force’s Home Front Command left in place restrictions on movement and gathering for people living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza, with officials estimating that a rocket barrage or other type of attack was only a matter of time.

“We did not see a rocket fired at Israel, this is a consequence of the IDF’s surprise action against Islamic Jihad,” IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told Army Radio on Wednesday morning.

“Anything else can happen today. We will assess the situation on whether to ease the instructions for the residents,” he added.

During the night, soldiers entered the Qabatiya to arrest wanted terror suspects, the IDF said. According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Israeli troops searched a number of homes in the city.

An assault rifle and handgun seized from Palestinian gunmen killed by IDF troops in the northern West Bank city of Qabatiya, May 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said that during the operation, the two gunmen opened fire at troops from a passing vehicle.

“The troops responded by firing at the two terrorists, killing them,” the IDF said, adding that troops seized an assault rifle and handgun from the car.

Graphic video showed the bloodied bodies of two men lying in a street. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry identified them as Ahmed Jamal Assaf, 19, from Qabatiya and Rani Walid Qatanat, 24, from the Jenin refugee camp.

A local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad later claimed the pair as members.

The ministry added that a third Palestinian, a 17-year-old, was critically hurt in the incident.

Other footage from the northern West Bank showed a large number of Israeli troops operating in Qabatiya. Intense gun battles could also be heard.

Israeli operations in the West Bank in the past year have mostly focused on the Jenin and Nablus areas, where Islamic Jihad and affiliated groups are thought to enjoy broad support.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 19 people and left several more seriously hurt. At least 103 Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

Islamic Jihad, as well as the so-called Joint Operations Room of various Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip — which includes both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — vowed a response to the deadly airstrikes early Tuesday.

The IDF said it assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza; Jihad Ghanem, a top official in the group’s military council; and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who it said directed Islamic Jihad terror activities in the West Bank from a base in Gaza.

The damage to a building following Israeli airstrikes on an apartment of an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

In a separate strike on Tuesday afternoon, members of an Islamic Jihad cell allegedly en route to carrying out an anti-tank guided missile attack on the Gaza border were struck and killed.

The army dubbed the campaign Operation Shield and Arrow.

Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have been answered with barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.

Most Popular
read more: