Gallant: IDF dealt ‘heavy blow’ to terror, Jenin operation ‘progressing as planned’

Chief of Israeli forces in West Bank says campaign – the largest there in 20 years — aims to ‘change the situation’ in Palestinian city; gunmen targeted in drone strike

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

Palestinians run amid clashes during an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the West Bank, on July 3, 2023 (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Palestinians run amid clashes during an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the West Bank, on July 3, 2023 (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday afternoon said the Israeli army’s major operation in the West Bank city of Jenin was “progressing as planned,” according to remarks issued by his office.

“In the past few hours, we dealt a heavy blow to the terror organizations in Jenin and managed to record impressive operational achievements,” Gallant said following an assessment he held with military chief Lt. Gen Herzi Halevi and other senior officers.

He said the troops would “receive full support to do whatever is necessary and to operate on the ground and in the air, in order to protect the citizens of Israel and preserve full freedom of action throughout [the West Bank].”

Over 1,000 Israel Defense Forces troops were involved in the campaign, which appeared to be the largest in the West Bank in some 20 years, with tensions already sky-high following a series of deadly terror attacks carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area.

The IDF said the operation began shortly after 1 a.m. with a series of airstrikes against multiple “terror infrastructure” targets in the city, including a joint war room shared by various armed groups in the city.

Palestinian health officials said eight people were killed and at least 27 others were wounded, including seven listed in serious condition, during the strikes and in clashes with Israeli forces.

One Israeli soldier was lightly hurt during the operation. The IDF said the serviceman was hit by shrapnel from a grenade hurled by other Israeli forces. He was taken to a hospital for further treatment, the IDF added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (2nd from right) meets with IDF chief Herzi Halevi (left) and other senior military officials, July 3, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Several of the slain Palestinians were identified by media reports as members of armed groups in the city, although there was no immediate official statement issued by Islamic Jihad or other local terror organizations.

After the initial attack, at least ten more drone strikes were carried out on terror operatives and sites used to store and manufacture weapons, the IDF said.

In one such strike on Monday afternoon, the IDF said a drone targeted Palestinian gunmen who were shooting at troops near a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp.

The IDF said it would provide further details on the strike later.

During the morning, IDF said forces located a makeshift rocket and a number of explosive devices among other weapons and military equipment. At least 20 suspects were detained, a military spokesperson said.

Palestinian gunmen take up position during a confrontation with Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

In a missive to troops before the launch of the open-ended campaign, the chief of the military’s West Bank division said the goal was to “change the situation” in the West Bank city.

“The city of Jenin, and in particular the refugee camp, is a stronghold of terror that exports terrorism to the entire [West Bank] and the home front,” said Brig. Gen. Avi Blot.

“In the eyes of the enemy, the refugee camp has become a ‘refuge city’ and the IDF’s freedom of action in the area is challenged,” he said.

“We are heading into this operation to change the situation and expand our freedom of action. Our mission: to create operational control, thwart and arrest terrorists, destroy enemy infrastructure, and confiscate weapons,” Blot said.

Blot referred to the operation by name, calling it “Bayit Vegan,” literally Home and Garden. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit insisted that the operation had no official name, despite Blot’s internal letter.

Brig. Gen. Avi Blot, commander of the IDF’s West Bank division is seen at the unit’s operational headquarters during a major operation in the city of Jenin, early July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Sporadic clashes and Israeli airstrikes continued throughout the morning and afternoon in Jenin.

Members of the Jenin Battalion, a local Islamic Jihad wing, claimed its members had opened fire on Israeli troops in the city and had targeted military vehicles, including a D9 bulldozer, with explosive devices.

D9 bulldozers were seen ripping up roads in the city, apparently to ensure no roadside bombs were hidden in the area. During a raid in Jenin last month, a large bomb detonated under an IDF vehicle, injuring seven soldiers.

Palestinian media outlets also claimed gunmen managed to down an IDF drone over the city.

Security forces were also preparing for possible rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Over the past year, the Islamic Jihad terror group has launched rockets at Israel from Gaza in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.

An Israeli army bulldozer drives through Jenin in the West Bank during a military operation on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

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

Last month, an Israeli military drone struck a car carrying three Palestinian gunmen who had just opened fire at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank near Jenin, marking the first targeted killings in the West Bank since 2006.

That incident came days after attack helicopters were used in a military raid in Jenin in which seven Palestinians were killed, including two teens, and eight soldiers were injured by a large roadside bomb and in clashes with Palestinian gunmen.

Last week, Palestinians in the Jenin area attempted to launch two homemade rockets at Israeli towns, footage showed. The rockets landed in Palestinian-controlled territory in the northern West Bank and did not reach Israel.

Israeli army jeeps as the military begins an operation in the West Bank city of Jenin, July 3, 2023 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

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 of which many 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, 143 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.

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