IDF kills wanted Hamas man, two others, in Jenin raid

Hamza Abu al-Hija was plotting ‘major operation’ against Israel; Islamic Jihad vows ‘blood for blood’ retaliation

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Personal belongings are removed from inside the home of Hamza Abu el-Hija, where he was killed by Israeli troops, in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
Personal belongings are removed from inside the home of Hamza Abu el-Hija, where he was killed by Israeli troops, in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

A joint IDF, Shin Bet and Border Police raid early Saturday killed a wanted Hamas operative in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank who was reportedly plotting a major terrorist attack. At least two other Palestinians were killed and seven others were wounded in subsequent clashes with Israeli forces.

Hamas member Hamza Abu al-Hija, 22, Islamic Jihad operative Mahmud Abu Zeina, 25, and Yazen Jabarin, 22, a member of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Brigades, were killed in the shootout with Israeli forces. Palestinian media only identified three people killed in the shootout, but the IDF reported that a fourth Palestinian was slain. Two members of the police’s elite counterterrorism unit sustained light injuries and received treatment on site.

The Israeli troops surrounded the house in which Abu al-Hija barricaded himself and when he attempted to escape, he was shot dead. According to IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, Abu al-Hija opened fire on the troops before he was killed. The IDF said that Abu al-Hija was “wanted for numerous shooting and bombing attacks as well as planning future acts of terrorism.” Lerner called him a “ticking time bomb” planning to kill Israelis.

A Palestinian security official who spoke to AP said that hundreds of angry residents and gunmen then attacked the soldiers, and the other two Palestinian men died in the subsequent clashes. The IDF reported that the mob threw stones, Molotov cocktails and improvised explosives at the troops, who returned with live fire.

A Gaza-based media outlet associated with Hamas tweeted shortly after Abu al-Hija’s death that sources said the dead man had been “preparing a major operation” against Israel.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency said an IDF bulldozer demolished part of the house in which Abu al-Hija barricaded himself.

According to Reuters, Hamas supporters carried the bodies of the three Palestinians through the streets of Jenin and shouted slogans against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised the raid on the Jenin refugee camp in a statement, saying it was “an important thwarting which prevented a planned terrorist attack that was meant to be carried out against Israeli targets, and thus saved lives.”

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, condemned what he called Israel’s escalation of violence and called on the American government to act immediately “before everything collapses.”

Hamas responded to the death of al-Hija on Saturday by accusing the Palestinian Authority of collaborating with Israel in the operation. According to Ynet, the Islamist faction ruling the Gaza Strip charged that PA security forces had detained al-Hija at least 20 times before the IDF attempted to arrest him on Saturday night.

Shortly after Al-Hija’s death, Hamas released a poster honoring him as a martyr.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Hader Adnan vowed that his organization would retaliate against Israel “blood for blood” for those killed in Jenin. Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri called on the Palestinian Authority to terminate the American-mediated negotiations with Israel.

Al-Hija’s father, Jamal Abu al-Hija, is a convicted Hamas leader who is currently incarcerated in Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to nine life sentences for involvement in at least six bombings, including the Meron Junction attack that killed nine Israelis in 2002 and the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria bombing that killed 15 in 2001.

Avi Issacharoff and AP contributed to this report. 

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