ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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At least 5 gunmen killed as IDF targets West Bank terror attack cell, officials say

Military says attackers planned ‘mass murder spree’ at eatery near Jericho; after failing to apprehend pair over weekend, unit enters Aqabat Jabr, kills prime suspects and others

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

A Palestinian man speaks on his phone at the scene of a raid by Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 6, 2023 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A Palestinian man speaks on his phone at the scene of a raid by Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 6, 2023 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Several Palestinian gunmen were killed in a military raid near the West Bank city of Jericho early Monday, as part of an operation to apprehend suspects involved in a shooting attack on a nearby restaurant last month, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency said.

On January 28, two Palestinian gunmen approached the Me Casa restaurant near the Almog Junction, close to Jericho, which was serving some 30 customers at the time.

One of the gunmen opened fire, but after a single shot his gun jammed, and the pair fled toward Jericho in a car, the military said.

The IDF and Shin Bet in a joint statement said the pair planned a “mass murder spree” at the restaurant.

There were no injuries in the attack.

Since the attack, the IDF’s Military Intelligence and Shin Bet have focused efforts on locating the pair, which have been thought to be part of a wider Hamas-affiliated armed group in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, adjacent to Jericho.

Security camera footage shows the suspects who allegedly carried out a shooting attack at the Almog Junction in the West Bank, January 28, 2023. (Courtesy)

The IDF also established a temporary checkpoint and for several days troops were questioning Palestinians entering and exiting Jericho.

The IDF said the gunmen were hiding in an apartment using the help of their neighbors and relatives, while planning to commit further attacks. On Saturday morning, IDF special forces entered the camp but failed to apprehend the pair.

The Me Casa restaurant near the Almog Junction, close to Jericho. (Courtesy)

Early Monday, troops of the mixed-gender Lions of the Valley light infantry battalion entered Aqabat Jabr in another attempt to locate the two gunmen. The soldiers identified several armed Palestinians, and a firefight broke out, the IDF said.

The IDF said several gunmen, including the two behind the restaurant attack, were killed, and several more were wounded.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry later reported that five were killed, and named them as Rafat Wael Awadat, 21, Malik Awni Lafi, 22, Adham Majdi Awadat, 22, Ibrahim Wael Awadat, 27, and Thaer Awadat, 28. The ministry said several others were injured.

Some Hebrew-language media reports said seven Palestinian gunmen were killed in the raid.

The bodies of those killed were taken by the military. Additionally, seven wanted Palestinians were detained and several firearms were seized from the gunmen by the troops, the IDF said.

Firearms seized from armed Palestinians in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, adjacent to Jericho, early Febuary 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

An IDF Skylark drone crashed in the refugee camp during the raid, the IDF said, adding that there was “no concern of leaked information” from the device. The incident would be further investigated.

Separately in other areas of the West Bank, troops detained another 12 Palestinian suspects in overnight raids, the IDF said.

No soldiers were hurt in the operations, according to the military.

Soldiers of the Lions of the Valley battalion operate near in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, adjacent to Jericho, early February 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In recent months, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements and civilians on the roads.

The restaurant shooting followed a pair of terror attacks in Jerusalem within a 24-hour period, including a deadly terror assault in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood.

Saturday’s raid came as tensions remain high in the West Bank.

The IDF has pressed on with an anti-terror offensive to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and seven more in an attack last month.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 41 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

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