IDF says Palestinian gunmen showing little resistance in Jenin, 10 targets remain

Palestinian health officials raise death toll from fighting to 10; military chief holds assessment in West Bank city as forces gear up for second day of operation

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

People walk along a street in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023, on the second day of an Israeli military operation (Ronaldo SCHEMIDT / AFP)
People walk along a street in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023, on the second day of an Israeli military operation (Ronaldo SCHEMIDT / AFP)

The Israeli military’s operation in the northern West Bank city of Jenin was set to continue Tuesday following a mostly uneventful night that saw Palestinian gunmen choosing not to fight Israeli forces, potentially signaling an approaching end to the campaign, now in its second day.

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military had some ten sites in the city’s restive refugee camp that it aimed to search in the coming hours.

He said the IDF had intelligence information that the sites were being used to manufacture explosives and other weapons.

Israel launched the 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.

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

Palestinian health officials said Tuesday morning that ten people were killed and at least 100 others were wounded, including 20 listed in serious condition, during Israeli airstrikes and in clashes with Israeli forces the previous day.

Palestinian gunmen take up positions during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The water and electricity supply to the Jenin refuge camp was disrupted during the operation. Hagari said the military’s liaison to the Palestinians was working to fix it in coordination with the PA. “This happened mainly because of where we damaged roads, where there were hidden explosives,” he said.

There were no major clashes overnight Monday or on Tuesday morning, even as IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi entered the West Bank city to hold an assessment with forces.

“The resistance of the gunmen tonight was low. They ran away from the targets we reached,” Hagari said in a call with reporters, noting that the operation was likely to be wrapped up within days, rather than weeks.

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center, facing camera), holds an assessment with military officials in the West Bank city of Jenin, early July 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

He said all of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded.

The IDF said that since the early hours of Monday, troops had questioned over 120 Palestinian suspects. Several of them were released, while others were taken in for additional questioning.

Hagari said the IDF believed there were some 300 Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp. He said the military had intelligence on the identities of at least 160 armed Palestinians.

Some 3,000 Palestinians streamed out of the Jenin refugee camp on Monday night to escape the fighting.

“Anyone who wants to leave the refugee camp is allowed,” Hagari said, clarifying that the IDF had not ordered an evacuation and that there was no closure on Jenin.

Residents of the Jenin refugee camp evacuate their homes as the Israeli military pressed ahead with an operation in the area, in the West Bank Monday, July 3, 2023. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

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 weapon storage sites, explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces, and other “terror infrastructure.”

Troops also clashed with armed Palestinians and carried out some 20 drone strikes against various targets in the refugee camp.

Hagari said there “wasn’t anywhere in the camp where we haven’t been.”

Palestinian terror group’s command and control center discovered by the IDF in Jenin, on July 4, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

Also overnight, Palestinians vandalized the religious site of Joseph’s Tomb, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, footage showed. Hagari said the Palestinian Authority was unable to prevent the rioting, but that security ties with it remained.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday night said security coordination with Israel would remain suspended and other ties would be cut as well, in protest of the Jenin operation. Abbas has threatened to halt security coordination with Israel several times in the past and declared a total freeze in January, but in practice, many parts of the coordination have remained in place.

Despite the looming end to the operation, the head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, said Monday that it would not be a one-off raid.

“This operation doesn’t stand on its own. This day doesn’t stand on its own. There is a series of operations here, just like we were here a week ago and two weeks ago. We will finish this operation, and we will come back in a few days or a week, and we will not abide [Jenin] being a city of refuge for terror,” Fox said.

Chief of the IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox speaks to reporters at the Salem checkpoint in the northern West Bank, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups urged Palestinians to join the fighting against the IDF, with some Gaza-based fighters threatening to get involved.

Bracing for possible rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, authorities canceled a large concert in the southern city of Sderot on Monday night but took no other precautionary measures. Over the past year, Islamic Jihad has launched rockets at Israel from Gaza in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.

One Israeli soldier was lightly hurt during the fighting when he was hit by shrapnel from a grenade hurled by other Israeli forces on Monday morning. The IDF said First Sgt. “Ayin,” from the elite Duvdevan unit — who can only be identified by his rank and initial of his first name in Hebrew — “insisted” on returning to his unit after being treated.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank city of Jenin, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Internally, the military has referred to the operation by name, calling it “Bayit Vegan,” literally Home and Garden, a reference to Jenin’s biblical name, and the term has been used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well. But the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit has insisted that the operation has no official name.

The military appeared to be downplaying the scale of the campaign by not giving it a name. Hagari has called it a “brigade-level raid.”

For weeks, there was 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. A makeshift rocket was located during Monday’s operation in Jenin.

Explosives located by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Jenin, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

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, 144 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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