'We brought down the terror factory'

Gallant: Goals of Jenin op fully achieved, most gunmen fled or hid among civilians

Defense minister says military is restoring its freedom to operate in Jenin and ending city’s status as a sanctuary for gunmen, though ‘it may take another round or two’

An Israeli armored vehicle is stationed at the end of a blocked-off street during an ongoing military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on July 4, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
An Israeli armored vehicle is stationed at the end of a blocked-off street during an ongoing military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on July 4, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that the two-day Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp had “fully achieved” its goals, though it was “not the final word as far as we’re concerned.”

In a briefing to reporters, Gallant said that the military was restoring its freedom to operate in the northern West Bank city with smaller forces and ending Jenin’s status as a sanctuary for gunmen. “It may take another round or two, but the situation today is not the one we faced at the start of the week,” he said.

“We brought down the terror factory that was built in Jenin. These were many dozens of sites that hosted bomb workshops, labs, weapons caches as well as security means guarding the entrances to the camp,” he said.

“As of this morning, the IDF and Shin Bet have [greater] freedom to act in Jenin,” Gallant declared.

He added that “at the moment of truth, the terrorists in Jenin chose to hide or flee… These are gunmen fighting for money or to show their friends that they’re heroes. Most left, and those who stayed hid within the civilian population, including in hospitals and places with children. I think this testifies most of all to their cowardice.”

Looking forward, he asserted Israel would “use any force necessary in any specific location or in the entire refugee camp” to counter terrorism and noted that “we have the capability to copy this operation in other locations.”

File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits an army base near the West Bank city of Jenin, July 4, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Gallant noted that significant funds for armed activity in Jenin and its refugee camp are Iranian — part of Tehran’s continuous effort “to promote terror” in the West Bank.

Israel launched a major operation early Monday to crack down on what it says is a hotbed of terror in the city. A number of attacks on Israelis in recent years have been carried out by Palestinians from the area, and observers say the Palestinian Authority has little control on the ground.

The operation focused on a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group known as the Jenin Battalion, as well as other smaller armed groups in the city and refugee camp.

Palestinian health officials said 12 people were killed, and at least 100 were wounded, including 20 listed in serious condition, during Israeli airstrikes and in clashes with Israeli forces.

One IDF soldier was shot dead as Israeli forces began to withdraw from the area late Tuesday night.

The Israel Defense Forces said the soldier, named Wednesday as Sgt. First Class David Yehuda Yitzhak from the elite Egoz commando unit, was treated at the scene before being taken to a hospital in Israel, where he was declared dead.

IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said the army was investigating if the soldier was hit by friendly fire but could not immediately rule out the possibility that he was hit by Palestinian gunfire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to Yitzhak’s family in a speech on Wednesday at the Palmachim air base. He too hailed the operation as a success and said Israel “dealt a very heavy blow to the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin.”

“Our forces will continue to operate at any moment when they are needed, with full freedom of action in Jenin” and across the West Bank, the premier said.

Over 1,000 IDF troops were involved in the campaign, which appeared to be the largest in the West Bank in some 20 years.

Jenin Mayor Nidal Al-Obeidi said around 4,000 Palestinians, nearly one-third of the camp, fled to stay with relatives or in shelters.

The military operation began shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday with a series of airstrikes against multiple targets in the city, including a joint war room shared by various armed groups in the city.

Throughout the campaign, the IDF said, troops located and demolished at least eight weapon storage sites, six explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, three war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces and other “terror infrastructure.” The IDF said it had also seized 24 assault rifles, eight handguns and dozens of bullets.

Troops also carried out some 20 drone strikes against various targets in the refugee camp.

Rubble on the streets of the West Bank city of Jenin, following a major Israeli offensive, July 4, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

For weeks, there was speculation about a looming major Israeli military operation in the West Bank, following a string of shooting attacks and intense resistance to IDF raids in Palestinian cities.

The northern West Bank, and especially the city of Jenin and its environs, has long been considered by the IDF as a hotbed of terrorism, highlighted by a string of attacks in early 2022, many of which were carried out by residents of the area.

According to the IDF, since last year, some 50 shooting attacks were carried out by residents of the area, and 19 wanted Palestinians escaped to Jenin to seek refuge there from Israeli forces.

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

Since the beginning of this year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 147 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that time — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

Emanuel Fabian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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