JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli drones struck targets in a militant stronghold in the occupied West Bank early Monday and hundreds of troops were deployed in the area, an incursion that resembled the wide-scale military operations carried out during the second Palestinian uprising two decades ago. Palestinian health officials said at least four Palestinians were killed.
Troops remained inside the Jenin refugee camp early Monday, pushing ahead with the largest operation in the area during more than a year of fighting. It came at a time of growing domestic pressure for a tough response to a series of attacks on Israeli settlers – including a shooting attack last week that killed four people.
Black smoke rose from the crowded streets of the camp as the military pressed on. According to Palestinian media reports, the operation disrupted life for local residents, with electricity cut off in some parts and a military bulldozer seen driving through narrow streets – another reminder of Israel’s incursions during the last uprising. The Palestinians condemned the violence.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an army spokesman, said the operation began just after 1 a.m. with an airstrike on a building used by militants for planning attacks. He said the goal of the operation was to destroy and confiscate weapons.
“We’re not planning to hold ground,” he said. “We’re acting against specific targets.”
He said that a brigade-size force – roughly 2,000 soldiers – was taking part in the operation, and that military drones had carried out a series of strikes to clear the way for the ground forces. Although Israel has carried out isolated airstrikes in the West Bank in recent weeks, Hecht said Monday’s series of strikes marked an escalation unseen since 2006 — the end of the Palestinian uprising.
While Israel described the attack as a pinpoint operation, videos on Palestinian social media showed a large tuft of white smoke billowing from a crowded area, with a mosque minaret nearby. Other videos showed a wounded man was brought into a hospital on a stretcher, while another was carried in by a group of men.
According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, the military blocked roads within the camp, took over houses and buildings and set up snipers on rooftops. The agency also said the military cut off electricity in large areas of the camp and that army bulldozers caused damage to property.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least three Palestinians were killed and 13 injured early Monday, three of them critically. Hecht said as many as seven militants were believed dead.
In a separate incident, a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire near the West Bank city of Ramallah, the ministry said.
“Our Palestinian people will not kneel, will not surrender, will not raise the white flag, and will remain steadfast on their land in the face of this brutal aggression,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, said in a statement.
The Jenin camp and an adjacent town of the same name have been a flashpoint as Israeli-Palestinian violence escalated since the spring of 2022. Jenin has long been a bastion for armed struggle against Israel and was a major friction point in the last Palestinian uprising.
In 2002, days after a Palestinian suicide bombing during a large Passover gathering that killed 30 people, Israeli troops launched a massive operation in the Jenin camp. For eight days and nights they fought militants street by street, using armored bulldozers to destroy rows of homes, many of which had been booby-trapped.
Monday’s raid came two weeks after another violent confrontation in Jenin and after the military said a rocket was fired from the area last week, which landed in the West Bank..
“There has been a dynamic here around Jenin for the last year,” Hecht said, defending Monday’s tactics. “It’s been intensifying all the time.”
But there also may have been political considerations at play. Leading members of Israel’s far-right government, which is dominated by West Bank settlers and their supporters, have been calling for a broader military response to the ongoing violence in the area.
“Proud of our heroes on all fronts and this morning especially of our soldiers operating in Jenin,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist who recently called for Israel to kill “thousands” of militants if necessary, tweeted. “Praying for their success.”
Monday’s deaths bring the death toll of Palestinians killed this year in the West Bank to 132, part of more than a yearlong spike in violence that has seen some of the worst bloodshed in that area in nearly two decades.
The outburst of violence escalated last year after a spate of Palestinian attacks prompted Israel to step up its raids in the West Bank.
Israel says the raids are meant to beat back militants. The Palestinians say such violence is inevitable in the absence of any political process with Israel and increased West Bank settlement construction and violence by extremist settlers. They see the intensifying Israeli military presence in the area as an entrenchment of Israel’s 56-year open-ended occupation of the territory.
Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and also people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.
Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the start of this year have killed 24 people.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.