Thu. May 30th, 2024

Four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, have been killed by Israeli forces during a raid into Jenin refugee camp, Palestinian health officials say.

An Israeli helicopter fired missiles after Palestinian militants targeted troop carriers with explosives.

It marks a sharp escalation of fighting as frequent raids in the city in the occupied West Bank continue.

The Israeli army says several vehicles remain stuck amid a “logistical operation under fire” to remove them.

Seven Israel soldiers and border police officers have been wounded, three of them “moderately”, according to the army.

It is the first time in years – possibly since the height of the second Palestinian Intifada – or uprising – two decades ago – that the Israeli military has used attack helicopters in the West Bank. The helicopter reportedly fired at militants on the ground while its forces tried to extract soldiers.

The Palestinian Authority described the raid as “Israeli aggression on Jenin [which] is a serious, dangerous escalation and must stop immediately”.

An Israeli Apache helicopter releases flares during a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin (19 June 2023)
Image caption,It is the first time in years that Israeli military has been known to use attack helicopters in the West Bank

Over the past 18 months, Israel has intensified its military search, arrest and home demolition raids into Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank, amid a sharp rise in Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis – with casualty rates on both sides reaching levels not seen in many years.

Since the start of this year, at least 160 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 21 Israelis have been killed.

Before dawn on Monday, undercover Israeli troops entered a neighbourhood on the edge of Jenin’s packed urban refugee camp, targeting the family home of a militant jailed by Israel, eyewitnesses said.

“I looked out the window and saw masked soldiers storming the house of our neighbour, Assem Abu al-Haija. After about a quarter of an hour, I heard several explosions and heavy gunfire,” Somaya Abu Samaan told Palestine TV.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) described a “massive exchange of fire” between its forces and Palestinian gunmen.

Videos showed an explosion hitting armoured troop transport as shots rang out.

An Israeli military spokesman said a Panther troop carrier was hit by an “unusual and dramatic” improvised explosive device (IED), after which an Israeli Apache helicopter fired on an open area to repel the gunmen as forces extracted soldiers from the troop transport.

“We don’t know the nature of the IED, it was pretty intense,” Lt Col Richard Hecht said.

He said the IDF were now bringing in heavy machinery to try to extract the vehicles, while exchanges of fire with militants continued. He added that soldiers who were previously inside the carrier had been moved to other protected vehicles.

The Palestinian health ministry said three men in their 20s and a 15-year-old boy were killed during the raid. The teenager was named as Ahmed Yousef Saqr.

The ministry said more than 60 Palestinians were wounded, including a 15-year-old girl who local reports said was hit by a bullet which came through the wall of her home. A Palestinian journalist covering the raid was also among those shot and wounded.

The raid is a further sign that US-led attempts to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank are failing.

Officials had hoped to reduce the intensity of Israeli military raids and impel the Palestinian Authority to regain its grip in the cities of Jenin and Nablus, where they have lost control to a new generation of militants.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs minister, said a “fierce and open war is being waged against the Palestinian people… by the occupation [Israeli] forces”.

He called for the Palestinian leadership to take “unprecedented decisions” without elaborating.

Israel’s use of aircraft would “push our fighters to use tools that will surprise the enemy”, an official with the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said. It claimed one of the dead men as a member.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Galant said: “We will use all the tools at our disposal and strike terrorists wherever they may be. Terrorists will not find a safe haven – not in Jenin, not in Nablus, and not in Gaza.”

By Joy

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