Netanyahu: Israel not seeking escalation

IDF braces for escalation as Gaza terror groups vow revenge for deaths of 9 in Jenin

Military chief Halevi orders army to ‘increase preparedness’ after raid against ‘ticking time bomb’ squad in northern West Bank; another killed in clashes near Jerusalem

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

Mourners carry the bodies of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces during an operation, in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 26, 2023.  (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Mourners carry the bodies of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces during an operation, in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 26, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Terror groups in the Gaza Strip on Thursday vowed to respond to the deaths of nine Palestinians during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank earlier in the day, as the Israel Defense Forces was instructed to “increase preparedness” for a potential escalation.

The IDF said troops entered the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Thursday to foil imminent attack plans by a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. The cell had primed explosives and firearms, according to the IDF.

Nine Palestinians — including several members of the PIJ cell, other gunmen, and at least one uninvolved civilian — were killed, and another 20 were wounded in the clashes that ensued.

A senior IDF officer said the forces had foiled a “ticking time bomb” after receiving “accurate intelligence” from the Shin Bet security agency about the cell’s hideout apartment in the camp. He said the raid lasted some three hours.

PIJ spokesman Tariq Salmi vowed that “the resistance is everywhere and ready and willing for the next confrontation.”

The senior officer said the IDF was “ready and prepared for any scenario,” including possible rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in response to the deadly clashes. Over the past year, the PIJ has launched rockets at Israel in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.

The officer said the military was prepared for an escalation in other areas as well, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Saleh al-Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas, vowed that Israel “will pay the price for the Jenin massacre.”

“Our resistance will not break, and our response will come soon,” he declared.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi, meanwhile, instructed the army to “increase preparedness and continue counter[terrorism] activities as needed,” the military said, following an assessment he held with top military officials following the raid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and military officials held a separate call on the developments.

“Netanyahu made it clear that Israel is not looking to escalate, but instructed the security forces to prepare for any scenario in the various arenas to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” his office said in a statement.

In a message to government ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office said that there are “no cities of refuge for terrorists.”

“Everywhere the Palestinian Authority doesn’t fulfill its authority, we’ll be forced to enter and foil terror attacks,” the message continued. The PMO also stressed that IDF forces were fired on first, and made every effort to avoid hitting innocent civilians.

People gather around a building damaged by Israeli troops as they sought to thwart an imminent terror attack in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, January 26, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

“The State of Israel will continue to act anywhere and at any time against those who work to harm the citizens of Israel. The security forces are prepared for any development in the various sectors,” Gallant said in a statement.

The IDF said the wanted PIJ operatives “have been involved in recent extensive terror activity, and are suspected of carrying out several shooting attacks against IDF forces, and planning other significant attacks.”

Troops used shoulder-launched missiles and other explosives against the hideout, in a tactic known as “pressure cooker,” to try and flush out the wanted men, the senior officer said.

The IDF also shared aerial footage of Palestinians opening fire and hurling firebombs and explosives from rooftops at troops during the raid.

The footage was accompanied by an audio recording of soldiers gathering information about the armed group.

The IDF said the Air Force’s 100th Squadron and Military Intelligence’s Unit 9900 — which also operates drones — were involved in tracking the armed Palestinians during the raid.

The clashes on Thursday morning marked the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in years.

The fatalities included a woman, identified as Magda Obaid, 61, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Her daughter, Kefiyat Obaid, told AFP that her mother was shot as she peered out her window at the clashes.

“After she finished her prayers, she stopped for a moment to look and, as she stood up, she was hit in the neck by a bullet and she fell against the wall and then to the floor,” the 26-year-old told AFP, as bloodstains soaked into the rug of their home.

The IDF was probing her death, a military source said.

The slain men were named as Abdullah Marwan al-Ghoul, 18; Moatassem Abu al-Hassan, 40; Wassim Amjad Jaas, 22; Nour Ghoneim, 25, and his brother Muhammad Ghoneim 28; Muhammad Sobh, 30; Saeb Issam Zreiki, 24; and Izz a-Din Yassin Salahat, 22.

Reuters reported Thursday that one of the men was also an uninvolved civilian but it was not immediately clear if this was the case.

Salahat was identified by Palestinian media as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terror group loosely affiliated with the PA’s ruling Fatah party, as well as a member of the PA security services.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced three days of mourning over the deaths of the nine Palestinians. In a statement carried by Palestinian media, Abbas ordered that flags be set at half-staff to mourn “the souls of the martyrs in the occupation massacre in the Jenin refugee camp.”

Separately on Thursday, a Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the town of a-Ram, north of Jerusalem, the PA Health Ministry said.

A police spokesman said dozens of Palestinians were launching fireworks and hurling Molotov cocktails and stones at Border Police officers during the clashes.

The spokesman said the company commander opened fire at a Palestinian who was launching fireworks “at a short range” during an attempt to arrest suspects.

“The company commander fired an accurate shot at the terrorist and neutralized him,” the spokesman said.

The slain man was named as 22-year-old Yousef Yahya Muhiesn, marking the 10th Palestinian to be killed in a day.

In separate clashes near Ramallah and Qalqilya on Thursday, at least six Palestinians were wounded, the ministry said.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces following an army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Tensions have recently soared in the West Bank as the IDF presses on with an anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of attacks that have left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022.

Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terrorist activity, and has been the focus of many of the raids.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and, as of Thursday, another 30 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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