ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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US ‘deeply concerned’ by large number of civilian injuries, deaths in Nablus raid

State Dept. says it recognizes Israel’s security concerns but still alarmed by high casualty count after 11 killed, over 100 hurt; Arab, Muslim nations issue far harsher criticisms

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Palestinians carry away a wounded man during an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Photo by Zain Jaafar / AFP)
Palestinians carry away a wounded man during an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Photo by Zain Jaafar / AFP)

The Biden administration expressed its “deep concern” Wednesday over the number of Palestinians injured and killed during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, joining the growing number of governments abroad speaking out against what the IDF has characterized as a necessary counter-terrorism operation.

Eleven Palestinians were killed in the Nablus raid, including three members of the northern West Bank-based Lions Den armed group who were the target of the operation.

A handful of other Palestinian gunmen were also killed during an intense firefight that broke out but the death count also included three civilians aged 61, 66 and 72, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Over 100 Palestinians were also injured in the gun battle. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly hurt by shrapnel.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price addressed the raid in the opening of his press briefing, noting that the administration “is extremely concerned by the levels of violence in Israel and the West Bank” and noted that both “militants and civilian bystanders” were among the dead and injured. “We wish a speedy recovery to those injured and our hearts go out to the families of the innocent bystanders who were killed today.”

Price said the US “recognize[s] the very real security concerns facing Israel” but is also “deeply concerned with the large number of injuries and the loss of civilian lives.”

He noted that the Biden administration had “productive conversations” with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days during which each agreed to take steps to de-escalate tensions.

“We are deeply concerned that the impact of today’s raid could set back efforts aimed at restoring calm for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Price was referring to the Sunday decision by the Palestinian Authority to withdraw its support for a UN resolution calling for an immediate halt to settlement activity. Meanwhile, Israel agreed to hold off on advancing further legalization of outposts and the construction of new settlement homes in the West Bank for several months — though it is still this week going through with the legalization of at least nine outposts and the advancement of plans for some 10,000 settlement homes that it had announced earlier this month.

Israel also agreed to limit IDF operations in PA-controlled Area A of the West Bank, such as Wednesday’s raid, along with demolitions of Palestinian homes and evictions of Palestinian families, a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel.

A Palestinian faces an Israeli military vehicle during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Zain Jaafar / AFP)

“Today’s events further underscore the urgent need for both sides to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank,” Price added, calling on the PA to refrain from incitement to violence and Israel to cease evictions, demolitions, settlement advancements and outpost legalizations.

The US statement followed much harsher condemnations by Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

Jordan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it has “consistently condemned Israeli incursions into occupied Palestinian cities, including today’s raid in Nablus.”

Amman reiterated its call on Israel to cease such actions in order “to avoid further deterioration” that damages prospects for a two-state solution.

Egypt’s foreign ministry slammed the IDF raid and expressed its “deep concern” that the operation would further escalate tensions, harming Cairo’s efforts to instill calm.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry called the “Israeli occupation forces’ storming of the Palestinian city of Nablus… a serious violation of international law” and urged the international community to stop such escalations.

Palestinians run from teargas fired by Israeli forces amid a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 22, 2023. (Zain Jaafar / AFP)

The United Arab Emirates foreign ministry — which was criticized by the US for not speaking out against Israeli expansionist moves in the West Bank last week — issued a statement late Wednesday condemning the IDF raid, calling on Israel “to reduce escalation and avoid steps that exacerbate tension and instability in the region.”

Qatar’s foreign ministry called the raid an “extension of [Israel’s] continuous and systematic crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Doha “warned of an explosion of tensions in the Palestinian territories as a result of the Israeli escalation” and calls on the international community to act to stop such “Israeli attacks” and to “provide protection” to the Palestinian people.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said “it is imperative that the Israeli authorities immediately put an end to these provocations and aggression to prevent a spiral of violence in the region.”

The UN’s Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland said in his own statement that he was “deeply disturbed by the continuing cycle of violence and appalled by the loss of civilian lives.”

“I am continuing my engagement with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation. I urge all sides to refrain from steps that could further enflame an already volatile situation,” he added.

Earlier Wednesday, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said Ramallah had decided to again turn to the United Nations Security Council to intervene after the raid. The formal request was sent to the president of the Security Council later in the day.

Wednesday’s raid came nearly a month after a similar day-time operation in the nearby city of Jenin in which 10 Palestinians were killed, including an elderly woman in an intense firefight that broke out as the IDF sought to arrest a number of terror suspects.

Mourners carry bodies of Palestinians killed during a raid by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Nablus, during their funeral procession on February 22, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

That raid was met with a flood of international condemnation and Palestinian calls for outside intervention. The Security Council also convened an emergency session on the matter. A day after the raid though, seven people were shot dead outside of a synagogue in East Jerusalem in the deadliest Palestinian terror attack since 2008.

For the past year, the IDF has been conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of Palestinian terror attacks that killed 32 people in 2022, and another 11 since the beginning of the year.

The IDF’s year-long operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. 171 Palestinians were killed in 2022, and another 60 have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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