The Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike against Palestinian gunmen in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday night, as forces began to withdraw from the area, 44 hours into the army’s major operation.
The IDF said the gunmen were stationed at a cemetery on the outskirts of Jenin, and “posed a threat to security forces as they left the refugee camp.”
“This is further proof of the exploitation of civilian sites throughout the city and in the Jenin refugee camp by terror elements,” the IDF said in a statement.
Palestinian media outlets reported several casualties in the strike. Their conditions were not immediately known.
There were sporadic clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops as the latter left the city on Tuesday night. A military source said that some of the forces were already out of the area as the army began to wrap up the operation.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that Israel’s major military operation in Jenin was coming to a close, while vowing that it would not be the last raid.
“At this moment we are completing the mission, and I can say our widescale action in Jenin is not a one-time thing,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the Salem checkpoint, some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Jenin.
“We will continue [to operate] as necessary to root out terrorism. We will not allow Jenin to go back to being a hotbed of terror,” he added.
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.
The Israel Defense Forces’ operation has focused on a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group known as the Jenin Battalion, as well as other smaller armed groups in the city and refugee camp.
The operation continued on Tuesday following a mostly uneventful night that saw Palestinian gunmen choosing not to fight Israeli forces, signaling the approaching end to the campaign.
The Palestinian Authority health ministry said a man, named by Palestinian media as Abdel Rahman Saabneh, was fatally shot in the head during clashes with Israeli troops in Jenin on Tuesday afternoon. Another unnamed man was killed and two others were wounded in renewed clashes during the evening hours, the ministry said.
The deaths brought the toll of the IDF’s operation in Jenin to 12. Palestinian health officials said at least 100 others were wounded, including 20 listed in serious condition, during Israeli airstrikes and in clashes with Israeli forces.
All of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded, according to the IDF.
١- الشهيد سميح أبو الوفا
٢- الشهيد حسام أبو ذيبة
٣- الشهيد أوس حنون
٤- الشهيد نور الدين مرشود
٥- الشهيد محمد الشامي
٦- الشهيد أحمد عامر
٧- الشهيد مجدي عرعراوي
٨- الشهيد علي الغول
٩- الشهيد مصطفى قاسم
١٠- الشهيد عدي… pic.twitter.com/6rmPtqjcs9
— Newpress | نيو برس (@NewpressPs) July 4, 2023
Over 1,000 IDF troops were involved in the campaign, which appeared to be the largest in the West Bank in some 20 years.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Jenin “in the past two years had become a factory for terror. In the past two days, this ended.”
“We cut off the weapons manufacturing process, captured thousands of bombs, destroyed dozens of production sites, workshops and explosives labs,” he said.
Gallant said the military will ensure it can operate freely against terror in the city. “We will reach a situation where we can move everywhere… with a squad and not an entire brigade.”
The IDF gave some reporters a tour of Jenin on Monday, as D9 bulldozers had been ripping up roads in the refugee camp to ensure no roadside bombs are hidden in the area, and to flatten makeshift roadblocks placed by Palestinian gunmen.
“There was intelligence information here about explosives under [the road], we didn’t do this in the entire camp, only in specific areas where we knew explosives were placed,” IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
The IDF said troops located and destroyed at least 11 improvised explosive devices hidden along roads in the Jenin refugee camp on Tuesday.
Operatives of terror groups “are planting IEDs and bombs on the roads in the refugee camp and in the city, in a civilian environment. This poses a threat to the security forces who use the roads in counterterrorism activities and to innocent people who also use them,” the IDF said in a statement.
The IDF said that since the early hours of Monday, troops had questioned over 300 Palestinian suspects, though only 30 of them were taken in for additional questioning.
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 at least eight weapon storage sites, six explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, three war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces, and other “terror infrastructure.” The IDF said it had also seized 24 assault rifles, 8 handguns and dozens of bullets.
Troops also carried out some 20 drone strikes against various targets in the refugee camp.
“Troops are finding [explosive] labs, weaponry, and demolishing them… the goal is to prevent the refugee camp from becoming an industrial lab for weapons, and to enable us more freedom of action in the refugee camp,” Hagari said.
“We’ll need to do this even after this operation. It will provide us with freedom of action to carry out operations in the future,” he added.
Internally, the military has referred to the operation by name, calling it “Bayit Vagan,” literally Home and Garden, a reference to Jenin’s biblical name, and the term has been used by 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.
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, 147 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.