UN envoy ‘alarmed’ after deadly Jenin raid; PA calls for international intervention

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Arab League blast Israel for operation that killed 9, including a civilian; Hamas warns Israel will pay price

A man fires his gun into the air as Palestinians carry the body of one of the 9 reported victims killed during an Israeli raid on the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, as they begin his funeral procession in the city of the same name on January 26, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
A man fires his gun into the air as Palestinians carry the body of one of the 9 reported victims killed during an Israeli raid on the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, as they begin his funeral procession in the city of the same name on January 26, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East urged for calm on Thursday after nine Palestinians were killed during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

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 but became entangled in firefights with local gunmen.

“I am deeply alarmed and saddened by the continuing cycle of violence in the occupied West Bank,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland in a statement. “The deaths today of nine Palestinians, including militants and one woman, during an Israeli arrest operation in Jenin is another stark example.”

Reuters reported that one of the eight slain gunmen was also a civilian but it was not immediately clear if this was the case.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel does not seek an escalation “but instructed the security forces to prepare for any scenario,” according to his office.

In a message to government ministers, he said there would be “no cities of refuge for terrorists,” and that is areas where the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t fulfill its authority, we’ll be forced to enter and foil terror attacks.” The Prime Minister’s Office also stressed that IDF forces were fired on first, and made every effort to avoid hitting innocent civilians.

The slain Palestinian men in the operation were named as Abdullah Marwan al-Ghoul, 18; Moatassem Abu al-Hassan, 40; Wassim Amjad Jaas, 22; Nour Ghoneim, 25, and his brother Muhammad Ghoneim 28; Muhammad Sobh, 30; Saeb Issam Zreiki, 24; and Izz a-Din Yassin Salahat, 22.

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.

At least 20 people were also injured in the raid, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

It was the deadliest Israeli military operation in the West Bank in years. The raid also raised the 2023 Palestinian death toll to 29, already outpacing last year’s figure, which the Palestinian health ministry placed at 171 — the highest since 2004.

The Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad reported that the PA notified Israel that it was ceasing its security cooperation immediately in light of the raid. The decision would be announced at a press conference later Thursday evening, the paper said.

The Israeli security establishment has long hailed coordination with PA forces as critical for combating terror and maintaining stability in the West Bank. While PA President Mahmoud Abbas has previously praised the security ties as well, they are not particularly popular among the Palestinian public, and he has made a habit in recent years of threatening to cut coordination amid growing frustration with Israel.

In May 2020, he acted on the threat though, halting security ties between Israeli and Palestinian forces for five months amid Israeli declarations to annex large parts of the West Bank.

In his Thursday statement, Wennesland said, “I urge, and remain actively engaged with, Israeli and Palestinian authorities to de-escalate tensions, restore calm, and avoid further conflict,” Wennesland added.

UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland at a UN Security Council meeting in New York, November 28, 2022. (Video Screenshot/UN; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, speaking to The Associated Press, appealed for the international community to intervene.

“We ask that the international community help the Palestinians against this extremist right-wing government and protect our citizens,” he said.

Thousands flocked to funerals in Jenin after the operation, as the Palestinian presidency announced three days of official mourning and charged that Thursday’s raid on Jenin was happening “under international silence.”

“This is what encourages the occupation government to commit massacres against our people in full view of the world,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesperson for Abbas.

The Israeli military was instructed to “increase preparedness” for a potential escalation. A senior IDF officer said the forces had foiled a “ticking time bomb” after receiving “accurate intelligence” from the Shin Bet security agency about the cell’s hideout apartment in the camp. He said the raid lasted some three hours.

Tensions surrounding violence in the West Bank have in the past spilled over to Gaza.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi vowed that “the resistance is everywhere and ready and willing for the next confrontation.”

The Islamic Jihad branch in the coastal enclave has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

Saleh al-Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas, vowed that Israel “will pay the price for the Jenin massacre.”

“Our resistance will not break, and our response will come soon,” he warned.

Palestinians carry the bodies of four of the 9 reported victims killed during an Israeli raid on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, during their funeral procession in the city of the same name, on January 26, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan lobbed criticism at Israel for the deaths.

Cairo’s Foreign Ministry condemned the raid and demanded “an immediate halt” to such activity while calling on the UN and other international bodies to work to “put an end to the repeated assaults against the Palestinian people.”

The Saudi foreign ministry denounced the raid and what it called Israel’s violations of international law, and urged the international community to halt Israeli aggression and ensure protection for civilians.

Ankara, meanwhile, expressed “sadness” over the loss of life in Jenin and said it is “deeply concerned” by increased tensions in the West Bank, calling on Israel to “prevent an escalation” in the region.

Jordan called on Israel to halt such incursions into Palestinian cities in Area A, which the Oslo Accords placed under the Palestinian Authority’s full security control. The country’s foreign ministry that the latest escalation risked “kill[ing] the last hope of achieving a just peace.”

The Arab League said it held “the Israeli government led by Netanyahu fully responsible for committing the horrific bloody massacre” and called for international action.

In Israel, opposition leader MK Yair Lapid said he offers his support for security forces operating in Jenin.

“High-quality intelligence, planning and professional execution led to the foiling of a terrorist cell that was engaged in encouraging attacks against civilians and the security forces,” he tweeted. “Take care of yourselves.”

MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List alliance of two Arab factions in the Knesset, tweeted, “The occupation continues to claim victims. But in the government the fascists are calm, they know that even in the opposition there are racists who are not interested in the occupation and the Palestinians.”

“The fight for democracy must also and above all be a fight against the occupation!” he added referring to protests against the new government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.

The Israeli 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.

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.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have soared since Israel launched the raids last spring, following a spate of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people, while another round of attacks later in the year brought the death toll to 31.

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