Israeli forces raided a refugee camp in the volatile West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday, killing at least six Palestinians, including a Hamas gunman suspected of shooting two brothers from a Jewish settlement near the village of Huwara last week and other terrorists.
Witnesses said fighting broke out after residents of the camp saw Israeli soldiers getting out of a furniture truck near a house on a hill overlooking the center of the sprawling camp and fighters immediately opened fire.
In the ensuing gun battle, Israeli forces surrounded a house where the suspected gunman had barricaded himself with other fighters, and used shoulder-fired missiles against the building, a statement from the military said. As well as six dead, at least 16 Palestinians were wounded, while one member of the Israeli police force was wounded and three lightly hurt.
The military identified the gunman as Abdel-Fattah Kharusha, a member of the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas, who it said shot two Israelis while they sat in their car at a checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Huwara in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 26. It said the terrorist’s two sons had been arrested in a raid at the same time on the city of Nablus, another center of militant activity.
Following a joint Israeli security forces operation in Jenin, the Hamas terrorist operative suspected of carrying out the shooting attack in Huwara, in which 2 Israelis were killed, was neutralized.
During an exchange of fire, armed assailants used an ambulance as a shield. 1/2
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) March 7, 2023
Hamas, which runs the blockaded Gaza Strip but which also has fighters in the West Bank, issued a statement claiming Kharusha as a member and confirming that he had carried out the Huwara attack, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinians this year.
Jenin, one of the major centers of militant activity in the West Bank where armed fighters parade openly, has been raided repeatedly by Israeli forces during months of violence that has caused increasing fears of a repeat of the Intifadas or uprisings of the 1980s and early 2000s.
The shooting of the two Israeli brothers triggered a revenge attack by Jewish settlers who killed a Palestinian man and torched dozens of houses and cars in a rampage described as a “pogrom” by a senior Israeli commander.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the soldiers who he said acted with surgical precision in carrying out the operation that “eliminated the abhorrent terrorists who murdered in cold blood” the two Jewish brothers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the IDF Operation in Jenin:
"IDF soldiers, ISA agents and Israel National Counter-Terrorism Unit officers have eliminated the abhorrent terrorist who murdered the two wonderful brothers, Hallel and Yigal Yaniv, in cold blood. pic.twitter.com/s4mWDUxJTw
— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) March 7, 2023
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken overnight reiterated calls for both sides to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, and the violence is also expected to be raised by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin when he visits Israel this week.
However, there has been no sign of any let up in the violence, ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival.
MORE HUWARA VIOLENCE
Tuesday’s operation in Jenin came after a major reinforcement of Israeli forces in the West Bank following the violence in Huwara, which sits near a major road junction where settlers and Palestinians have frequently clashed.
Despite a crackdown by Israeli police, tensions at Huwara have continued since the shooting and overnight Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the village.
Israeli army and border police forces dispersed crowds of what the military described as “a number of violent rioters” in Huwara. Videos shared on social media showed a group of black-clad youths attacking a Palestinian car before its driver manages to pull away.
“My wife was sitting in the back and she hugged our daughter to cover her,” said Omar Khalifa, who had just finished shopping at a supermarket and had got into the car with his family when the assault took place. “We could have lost her, there was real danger to our lives.”
Other footage appeared to show Israeli soldiers dancing together with Jewish settlers in the town on what was the Jewish festival of Purim. “Huwara has been conquered, gentlemen!” a voice is heard saying in Hebrew.
The military did not address a question about the footage of soldiers dancing with settlers when it responded to a request for information on the incident. Nor did it immediately respond to a Reuters query on whether there had been any arrests.
Since the beginning of the year, Israeli forces have killed more than 70 Palestinians, which mainly consisted of militant fighters but also includes civilians, while in the same period, Palestinians have killed 13 Israelis and one Ukrainian woman in a series of apparently uncoordinated attacks by individuals.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal.