Israeli troops and drones hit Jenin in major West Bank operation


JENIN: Israeli forces hit the city of Jenin with drone strikes on Monday in one of the biggest West Bank operations in 20 years, killing at least eight Palestinians and involving hundreds of troops in sporadic gun battles that continued into the evening.

Gunfire and explosions were heard throughout the day as clashes continued between Israeli troops and fighters from the Jenin Brigades, a unit made up of militant groups based in the city’s crowded refugee camp.

“What is going on in the refugee camp is real war,” said Palestinian ambulance driver Khaled Alahmad. “There were strikes from the sky targeting the camp, every time we drive in, around five to seven ambulances and we come back full of injured.”

At times during the morning, at least six drones could be seen circling over the city and the adjoining camp, a densely packed area housing around 14,000 refugees in less than half a square kilometre.

The camp has been at the heart of an escalation of violence across the West Bank that has triggered mounting alarm from Washington to the Arab world, without so far opening the way to a resumption of political negotiations that have been stalled for almost a decade.

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed at least eight people had been killed and more than 50 wounded in Jenin, while another man was killed in Ramallah overnight, shot in the head at a checkpoint.

“Nothing is safe in the camp. They dug up the roads with bulldozers. Why? What did the camp do?” said Hussein Zeidan, 67, as he recovered from his wounds in hospital.

In Washington, the State Department said it was closely tracking the situation in Jenin. A State Department spokesperson said it was imperative that all possible precautions be taken to prevent the loss of civilian lives.

The Israeli military said its forces struck a building that served as a command centre for fighters from the Jenin Brigades with what it called “precise” drone strikes using small payloads. It described the operation as an extensive counter-terrorism effort aimed at destroying infrastructure and disrupting militants from using the refugee camp as a base.

An Israeli military spokesman said the operation would last as long as needed and suggested forces could remain for an extended period. “It could take hours, but it could also take days. We are focused on our goals,” he said.

Following the last major raid in Jenin in June, Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. That led to a rampage by mobs of settlers in Palestinian villages and towns.

Israel captured the West Bank, which the Palestinians see as the core of a future independent state, in the 1967 Middle East war. Following decades of conflict, peace talks that had been brokered by the United States have been frozen since 2014.

 

Reuters

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