Israeli military forces launched a major operation in the West Bank city of Jenin early Monday morning focused on the city’s restive refugee camp, with airstrikes carried out against multiple targets.
A senior government official said that “the goal of this extensive operation is to end Jenin’s role as a ‘city of refuge’ for terror, and it will last as long as it needs to.”
The campaign appeared to be the largest in the West Bank in 20 years, and came as tensions were sky-high following a series of deadly terror attacks carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area.
The Palestinian Authority health ministry said eight people were killed and at least 27 others were wounded, including seven Palestinians listed in serious condition.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that “security forces are now engaged in a widescale effort to thwart terror throughout Jenin” and had struck “terror infrastructure” in the city shortly after 1 a.m.
The military said it carried out an airstrike against a joint war room shared by various armed groups in the city including the so-called Jenin Battalion, which “served as an observation post, a gathering place for armed terrorists before and after terror acts, a cache for munitions and bombs and a communications center.”
IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters later that the operation was focused on the Jenin refugee camp and was “part of a series of actions that we carry out and will continue to carry out.”
“We did not come to occupy the refugee camp. This is not an operation against the Palestinian Authority but against the terror groups in Jenin,” he said.
Hagari branded the operation as a “brigade-level raid,” without giving it an official name. More than 1,000 troops were involved in the campaign, according to military sources.
The PA health ministry said at least three were killed in the initial strikes. The eight slain Palestinians were named as Samih Firas Abu al-Wafa, Hussam Muhammed Abu Dhiba, Aws al-Hanoun, Noureddine Hossam Marshoud, Muhanned al-Shami, Majdi Ararawi, Ashraf al-Bahr, and Ahmad al-Amer.
Several of them 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.
The IDF said that after the initial strike on the terror groups’ joint headquarters, at least ten more drone strikes were carried out on wanted operatives and sites used to store and manufacture weapons.
⭕ شاهد| فيديو يظهر القصف المستمر على جنين pic.twitter.com/ILNe2CKhNH
— إذاعة الأقصى – عاجل (@Alaqsavoice_Brk) July 2, 2023
Palestinians reported that residents had been sent text messages asking them to remain indoors, while some members of armed groups had received texts urging them to lay down their arms and turn themselves in.
Members of the Jenin Battalion, a local Islamic Jihad wing, claimed its members had opened fire on Israeli troops in the city and targeted military vehicles, including a D9 bulldozer, with explosive devices.
⭕ فيديو| إشتباكات عنيفة يخوضها المجاهدين في تصديهم لقوات الاحتلال المقتحمة لجنين. pic.twitter.com/8Liyge7EEk
— إذاعة الأقصى – عاجل (@Alaqsavoice_Brk) July 3, 2023
Meanwhile, Palestinian media reports said that PA security forces arrested a prominent member of the so-called Jaba’ Battalion, another armed group based in the northern West Bank. Morad Malaysha had been wanted by Israel for over a year, the reports said.
Sporadic clashes and Israeli airstrikes continued throughout the morning in Jenin.
Footage shared online purported to show armored personnel carriers on the outskirts of the Palestinian city.
Palestinian media outlets also claimed gunmen managed to down an IDF drone over the city.
The IDF said that during the operation, 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.
The IDF said troops demolished a laboratory used to manufacture explosive devices.
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.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh put out a message of solidarity with Jenin along with other Gazan terror groups and warned: “The blood spilled in Jenin will determine the next stage, on all potential paths. Our people and their resistance are able to respond to this barbaric aggression.”
Security forces were preparing for possible rocket fire from the Strip.
A senior security source told the Ynet news site that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza had been sent messages that the operation was limited to Jenin and that they should not intervene, or “we’ll respond severely.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the operation in a tweet, saying that “anyone who harms the citizens of Israel will pay a heavy price.”
“We are closely monitoring the behavior of our enemy. The defense establishment is prepared for any scenario,” Gallant added.
In an apparently unrelated incident, the Palestinian Authority health ministry said a 21-year-old man, named as Muhammed Hassanein, was shot dead by Israeli troops at the entrance to the city of al-Bireh, close to Ramallah. There was no immediate comment from the IDF on the incident.
In another incident, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the West Bank settlement of Avnei Hefetz on Monday morning, causing slight damage to a building, the IDF said. Troops were scanning the area for suspects.
Avnei Hefetz, close to the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, has come under fire several times in recent months.
فيديو| جانب من اقتحام المنازل ونشر القناصة خلال اجتياح مدينة جنين. pic.twitter.com/RdtbsxIMVQ
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) July 3, 2023
Meanwhile, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, slammed the IDF operation in Jenin, calling it a “new war crime against our defenseless people.”
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 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.
مراسل نيو برس: طائرات الاحتلال تستهدف منزل في #مخيم_جنين.
— Newpress | نيو برس (@NewpressPs) July 3, 2023
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.
The northern West Bank, and especially the city of Jenin and its environs, has long been considered by the IDF as hotbeds of terrorism, highlighted by a string of attacks in early 2022 of which many were carried out by residents of the area.
Hagari said that 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.
In the US, Israeli Ambassador Mike Herzog tweeted overnight: “Over the past two years, Jenin has become a major hub of terrorism and an Iranian stronghold close to Israeli population centers. Most of the terror attacks against Israelis originated from Jenin. No nation would sit idly by as terrorists strike its citizens.”
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.