Nine Palestinians were killed, among them an elderly woman, and several were wounded during fierce clashes between Israeli troops and gunmen in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday morning, Palestinian health officials said.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said troops entered the Jenin refugee camp to foil imminent attack plans by a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
“This squad was a ticking time bomb. If we didn’t act, they would have,” a senior IDF officer told reporters.
“During an attempt to arrest them, the wanted men opened fire and were killed in an exchange of fire with our forces,” the IDF said. Three members of the PIJ cell were killed and a fourth was arrested, according to the military.
“The wanted men, PIJ operatives, have been involved in recent extensive terror activity, and are suspected of carrying out several shooting attacks against IDF forces, and planning other significant attacks,” it said.
The military said the raid against the cell’s hideout apartment in the camp was launched following “accurate intelligence” given to the army by the Shin Bet security agency.
Troops used shoulder-launched missiles and other explosives against the hideout, in a tactic known as “pressure cooker,” to try and flush out the wanted men, the officer said.
During the raid, other Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Israeli troops, who returned fire, hitting some of them, the military added.
No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the clashes, the IDF said.
The local wing of PIJ said its members opened fire on the Israeli troops and detonated explosive devices in the area. Several IDF jeeps were damaged by the explosives and required a tow truck to pull them out, the officer said.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry said in a statement that nine Palestinians were killed, with 20 more wounded, including four listed in critical condition.
The clashes on Thursday morning marked likely the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in years.
شاهد| تواصل الاشتباكات بين المقاومين وقوات الاحتلال في مخيم جنين. pic.twitter.com/PmUyv4KqPv
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) January 26, 2023
The fatalities included a woman, identified as Magda Obaid, 61, the ministry said.
Her daughter, Kefiyat Obaid, told AFP that her mother was shot as she peered out her window at the clashes.
“After she finished her prayers, she stopped for a moment to look and, as she stood up, she was hit in the neck by a bullet and she fell against the wall and then to the floor,” the 26-year-old told AFP, as bloodstains soaked into the rug of their home.
The IDF was probing her death, a military source said.
Some of the slain men were named, including 24-year-old Saeb Essam Mahmoud Azriqi, 26-year-old Izzidin Yassin Salahat, Abdullah Marwan al-Ghoul, and Moatassem Abu al-Hassan.
Salahat was identified by Palestinian media as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terror group loosely affiliated with the PA’s ruling Fatah party, as well as a member of the PA security services.
???? تحية إجلال وإكبار
للشرطي الفلسطيني المقاتل عز الدين صلاحات، صائد الدوڤدوڤن، إستشهد بعد إكتشافه لقوات خاصة صهيونية بمخيم جنين وخوضه إشتباك مسلح معهم من مسافة صفر وحقق إصابات وقتلى في صفوف العدو وإرتقى لله شهيداً شهيداً شهيداً .#جنين pic.twitter.com/sru4kwwtCj
— فدائيين – Fedayeen (@palestfateh1965) January 26, 2023
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Israel was “carrying out a massacre in Jenin amid international silence.”
Abbas later announced three days of mourning over the deaths of the nine Palestinians. In a statement carried by Palestinian media, Abbas ordered that flags be set at half-staff to mourn “the souls of the martyrs in the occupation massacre in the Jenin refugee camp.”
شاهد| مقاومون يسقطون طائرة تصوير "درون" تابعة لقوات الاحتلال كانت تحلق في مخيم جنين. pic.twitter.com/QcgOQHHEgN
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) January 26, 2023
Explosions and gunfire could be heard in footage published by Palestinian media outlets. Another clip purported to show Palestinian gunmen shooting down a small IDF surveillance drone.
Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Rubsaid that residents were living in a “real state of war.”
“The Israeli army is destroying everything and shooting at everything that moves,” he told AFP.
PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said paramedics were struggling to reach the wounded amid the fighting.
Al-Kaila also accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video from the hospital showed women carrying children out of hospital rooms and into the corridor. The military said tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from the clashes nearby.
The senior IDF officer, speaking to reporters said the raid lasted some three hours.
The officer said the IDF was “ready and prepared for any scenario,” including possible rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in response to the deadly clashes. Over the past year, the PIJ has launched rockets at Israel in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.
The officer said the military was prepared for an escalation in other areas as well, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to hold an assessment later in the day on the incident, with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen filling in for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who reportedly headed to the US on Wednesday for a short personal trip.
Tensions have recently soared in the West Bank as the IDF presses on with an anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of attacks that have left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022.
Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terrorist activity, and has been the focus of many of the raids.
The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and, as of Thursday, another 29 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.
Agencies contributed to this report.