After the Israel Defense Forces withdrew all troops from the Jenin refugee camp early Wednesday, local Palestinian residents emerged from their homes in the morning to large-scale destruction, as the thousands who fled their homes during the counter-terror operation started to return.
Israel launched the major operation early Monday to crack down on what it says is a hotbed of terror in the city. IDF forces started leaving the area around midnight Tuesday, with the pullout completed in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
People emerged from their homes to find alleys lined with piles of rubble and flattened or scorched cars. Shopkeepers and bulldozers started clearing the debris.
Many parts of the refugee camp and some parts of the adjacent West Bank city were temporarily left without electricity or water due to the damaged infrastructure.
The fighting saw multiple clashes between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen, with Israeli troops also targeted by improvised explosive devices and the IDF carrying out drone strikes on various targets.
Jenin Mayor Nidal Al-Obeidi said around 4,000 Palestinians, nearly one-third of the camp, had fled to stay with relatives or in shelters.
Returning residents described finding devastation, with roads torn up and buildings reduced to rubble during the fighting.
Fortified military vehicles had dug up parts of some streets in areas where there was intelligence pointing to possible improvised explosive devices, as a lesson from a massive IED that exploded a few weeks ago near the city as an IDF vehicle was passing, injuring eight soldiers.
A number of attacks on Israelis in recent years have been carried out by Palestinians from the area surrounding Jenin, and observers say the Palestinian Authority has little control on the ground.
The 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 army said it inflicted heavy damage on terror groups in the two-day operation, which included a series of airstrikes and hundreds of ground troops.
But it remained unclear whether there would be any lasting effect after nearly a year and a half of increased violence in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Tuesday that it was not a one-off operation.
An Israeli soldier, Sgt. First Class David Yehuda Yitzhak from the elite Egoz commando unit, was shot and killed while securing the beginning of the military’s withdrawal from the refugee camp Tuesday night. The military was investigating whether his death was the result of so-called “friendly fire.”
The number of Palestinians killed during the operation remained unclear.
Palestinian health officials said 13 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.
IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said at least 18 Palestinian gunmen had been killed by Israeli forces.
According to the IDF, all of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded.
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 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.