Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday said security coordination with Israel would remain suspended and other ties would be cut as well, in protest of a large-scale raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The announcement came as the US State Department urged the PA and Israel to increase security cooperation and a UN envoy said he was in touch with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a bid to restore calm.
The counterterror mission appeared to be the largest operation in the West Bank in around two decades and was launched amid already elevated tensions following a series of deadly terror attacks carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area.
According to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry, eight Palestinians have been killed and another 80 hurt since the Israeli campaign began overnight. Of those wounded, 17 were listed in critical or serious condition.
The IDF has stressed the current operation is aimed at terror groups and not the PA.
Calling an emergency session of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Abbas said the PA would immediately halt all contact and meetings with the Israeli side.
“In light of the Israeli lack of commitment to the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh understandings — the leadership announces that these understandings are no longer binding,” said a statement from Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, referring to meetings the sides held in Jordan and Egypt earlier this year.
Palestinian leaders additionally agreed to step up activity against Israel in the United Nations and international bodies. They also planned to minimize contact with the United States, measures they have announced in the past in response to Israeli or US actions.
“The leadership affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against the aggression and that the mission of the Palestinian Authority is to protect the Palestinian people, and to put all its capabilities for this purpose,” the statement said, stressing that the PA would do so while adhering to international law.
Abbas has threatened to halt security coordination with Israel several times in the past and declared a total freeze in January after an IDF raid in Jenin led to clashes in which nine Palestinians were killed, most of them members of terror groups, but also at least one civilian. Israel said at the time the raid was a necessary anti-terror operation.
But a week later, Abbas acknowledged to visiting CIA chief William Burns that parts of the security coordination apparatus remained in place and could potentially be fully restored.
Previous Palestinian moves to suspend this coordination have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the PA enjoys from the relationship by helping fend off challenges from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups. It has also faced US and Israeli pressure to maintain it, with all three viewing the coordination as a key element helping to tamp down terror activity and promote stability in the West Bank.
The PA has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank and some areas such as Jenin have seen an erosion of its authority that analysts say has contributed to rising attacks on Israelis.
Around the time of the PA announcement, a State Department spokesperson issued a statement saying, “Today’s events further underscore the urgent need for Israeli and Palestinian security forces to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
The spokesperson urged Israel to avoid civilian deaths in Jenin.
“It is imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives,” the statement said.
In the Biden administration’s first comment on the fighting in the northern West Bank, a National Security Council spokesperson expressed US support for “Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.”
The spokesperson added that the administration is “monitoring the situation closely.”
Tor Wennesland, the United Nations Mideast envoy, said he was in contact with both Israel and the Palestinians to de-escalate the situation in Jenin and “ensure humanitarian access and delivery of necessary medical and other supplies” into the Jenin area.
Wennesland tweeted that the escalation was “very dangerous.”
“All must ensure the civilian population is protected,” he said.
Earlier, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said she was “alarmed” by the scale of the operation and said that “airstrikes were used in the densely populated refugee camp.”
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates said it “strongly condemns” Israel’s Jenin operation, calling for “the immediate halt of repeated and escalating campaigns against the Palestinian people.”
The UAE Foreign Ministry also stressed the need to return to regional and international peace efforts and end practices that threaten a two-state solution.
The UAE’s tone was noticeably less strident than that of Jordan and Egypt, who earlier released statements denouncing the Israeli operation. All three Arab nations have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Turkey’s foreign ministry issued a statement “strongly condemning” the mission.
“We are deeply concerned that the current tension in the region could trigger a new spiral of violence following these attacks, and we reiterate our call on the Israeli authorities to act with common sense and put an end to such actions,” it said.
“We wish Allah’s mercy upon our Palestinian brothers who lost their lives in the incident, a speedy recovery to the injured and extend our condolences to the State of Palestine and its people.”
Amid the international reactions, an official at Israel’s Foreign Ministry who asked not to be named told The Times of Israel that its diplomats around the world were pushing messages about the Jenin operation to highlight certain key points.
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.
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.
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.
Lazar Berman, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.