IDF, Palestinian gunmen clash in West Bank raid targeting restaurant attack suspects

13 Palestinians injured; prime suspects not arrested during operation near Jericho following eatery shooting; refugee camp residents get SMS telling them to keep children home

A Palestinian family, mostly women and children, raise their hands as Israeli forces raid Aqbat Jabr camp near Jericho on February 4, 2023, during a search for the suspects behind a shooting attack at a restaurant in a nearby settlement last week. (AP Photo/ Majdi Mohammed)
A Palestinian family, mostly women and children, raise their hands as Israeli forces raid Aqbat Jabr camp near Jericho on February 4, 2023, during a search for the suspects behind a shooting attack at a restaurant in a nearby settlement last week. (AP Photo/ Majdi Mohammed)

Clashes broke out Saturday morning after Israel Defense Forces troops raided a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Jericho as part of operations to apprehend suspects involved in a shooting attack on a nearby restaurant last week, the military said.

The official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA said 13 people were injured, including three seriously during the violence at the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, adjacent to Jericho.

The Israel Defense Forces said that “during the activity, armed individuals fired at the forces who responded back with live fire,” adding that several suspects were hit.

No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the raid, the IDF said.

The IDF said 18 suspects were detained for questioning in the operation, six of whom were arrested, while the rest were released.

However, the prime suspects behind the shooting attack were not caught.

Israeli troops operate near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Palestinian media reports, Israeli troops surrounded buildings where suspects were barricaded, and fired an anti-tank missile at the structure in an attempt to force a surrender.

“Following Shin Bet intelligence efforts since the shooting attack, information showed the cell members were hiding in a building in the Aqabat Jabr camp… while using the help of their families and the camp’s residents and planning additional future terror attacks,” the IDF said.

A screenshot of a text message sent to the residents of the refugee camp circulated online, which warned them to “keep children at home” during the operation.

“We act in a targeted manner against terrorism. Avoid unnecessary confrontations with the security forces and keep your children at home. Listen to us so we can restore peace to the camp,” the message read.

According to the Haaretz daily, some mosques in the refugee camp had issued calls for residents to defend the area during the military operation.

The raid came after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a restaurant near the Almog Junction, close to Jericho, last Saturday evening.

Surveillance camera footage of the incident last week showed the gunman armed with an assault rifle and another person approaching the restaurant. There were no injuries in the attack.

A military source said the gunman’s weapon jammed, and he only managed to fire one shot before fleeing the scene.

Security camera footage from another angle showed the vehicle they were driving had an Israeli license plate.

The IDF established a temporary checkpoint and for several days troops have been questioning cars entering and exiting Jericho.

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, with an unarmed Palestinian man shot dead after allegedly lunging at Israeli soldiers near the northern West Bank city of Nablus a day earlier, the military said.

The troops first shot into the air, and after the suspect continued to refuse calls to halt, they fired directly at him, killing him, the IDF said. A military source said a suicide note was found on his body.

Separately on Friday, an Israeli driver came under fire near the West Bank city of Rawabi. The IDF said several bullet holes were identified on the car, and shell casings were found nearby.

The incidents came as the IDF 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 weekend.

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 36 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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