Far-right minister calls for use of tanks, airpower after heavy clashes in Jenin

Finance Minister Smotrich urges ‘broad operation’ in West Bank; Egypt accuses Israel of inflaming violence, raising regional tensions; Palestinians threaten unprecedented response

An Israeli Air Force AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases flares during an Israeli army raid in Jenin in the West Bank on June 19, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
An Israeli Air Force AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases flares during an Israeli army raid in Jenin in the West Bank on June 19, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Senior coalition lawmakers called for a major military operation in the West Bank town of Jenin Monday after heavy clashes between IDF forces and local gunmen left four Palestinians dead and seven soldiers injured by a powerful roadside bomb.

Dozens more Palestinians were injured.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Religious Zionism party, called for ending surgical strikes and instead launching a sweeping military campaign in the West Bank.

“It is time to replace the tweezers with a broad operation to eradicate the terror nests in northern Samaria and to restore security deterrence in the area,” he said in a statement using the Hebrew name for the northern West Bank region.

“The time has come to send in air and tank forces to protect the lives of our fighters,” he said. Smotrich said he will demand an emergency meeting of the security cabinet about the matter.

Smotrich caused international outrage in March when he called for wiping out the West Bank town of Huwara after a terror attack killed two Israeli brothers there. He later apologized.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends a conference in Jerusalem on May 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, noted an increase in the scale and quality of the attacks by Palestinian terror groups against residents and security forces in the northern West Bank.

“This is the time to give a green light to the IDF to act to clean out the terror nests,” he said.

Likud MK Nissim Vaturi took matters further, telling the Ynet news site, “We are preparing for an operation in Jenin. There are thoughts about it. Any place there are terrorists we will catch them and wipe them out.”

Yisrael Beytenu party chair Avigdor Liberman also said the government “must launch an extensive, large-scale military operation [in the northern West Bank] in order to clean out the gangs [of armed gunmen and terrorists] and get the weapons,” while speaking at a faction meeting at the Knesset.

Blaming Hamas for the violence, Liberman called for a resumption of assassinations of Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

“We cannot accept the ‘rules of the game’ in which they can inflame Judea and Samaria while being immune in Gaza,” he added, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Smoke billows from the aftermath of the detonation of a Palestinian explosive charge against an Israeli armored vehicle during an Israeli army raid in Jenin in the West Bank on June 19, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement the IDF has his support in using “full force” for the sake of security but did not specify a wider military campaign.

“There are no compromises in the fight against terrorism. We will continue to take an offensive and proactive approach,” he said in a statement. “We will use all the means at our disposal and cripple the elements of terrorism wherever they are found — terrorism does not and will not have a ‘sanctuary’ — in Jenin, Nablus or Gaza,” he wrote.

“The commanders of the IDF and the forces in the field will receive my full backing to act with full force to preserve the lives of our citizens and our forces.”

Defense Minister Yoav Galant attends a recognition ceremony for the IDF reserve soldiers, in the Knesset on June 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Haaretz news site reported that there has been mounting pressure from the government to launch a large-scale operation in recent weeks, but that the IDF has been resisting.

However, the report Monday said that there was growing support from the Shin Bet security agency given the growing sophistication of the roadside bombs being used by Palestinian terror groups in recent months.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the incident in Jenin a “massacre” and an attempt “to detonate the area and drag it into the violence box.”

He said Washington and the world must take action to “stop this Israeli madness.”

“International silence is what encourages the occupation government to continue its crimes and wage an all-out war against our Palestinian people, their land and their holy places,” he added.

Hussein al-Shekh, a senior Palestinian official, accused Israel of waging “a fierce and open war” against the Palestinian people and said Abbas would make “unprecedented decisions” in an upcoming emergency meeting.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned what it called Israel’s “continued escalation against the Palestinians,” saying it only further inflamed the situation and undermined efforts to reduce regional tensions.

In a brief joint statement, the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police said forces entered the northern West Bank city in the early morning hours to detain two wanted Palestinians.

“During the activity, a massive exchange of fire took place between the forces and armed gunmen in the area. Large numbers of explosive devices were hurled at the forces. The forces responded with live fire,” the statement said, adding that several suspects were hit.

Amid intense fighting, an Israeli helicopter gunship carried out rare strikes, the first in the West Bank in some two decades, in order to allow for the seven wounded soldiers to be evacuated from the battle zone after a vehicle was hit by an explosive device, the military and local officials said.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is responsible for the Border Police which was also involved in the fighting, said he supports the soldiers “who risked their lives and fought in Jenin against vile terrorists for hours and demonstrated determination against the enemy.”

A local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group claimed its members had detonated explosive devices near IDF vehicles and then targeted them with gunfire.

Israel has carried out repeated raids in Jenin to apprehend terror suspects. In January, nine Palestinians were killed and several wounded during a gun battle between the IDF and gunmen.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 20 people and left several more seriously hurt. Then in March, six Palestinians were killed in another raid, including one Israel held responsible for a terror attack that killed two Israeli brothers.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 122 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

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