The Israeli army raided the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday, Palestinian health officials said, leading to a gunbattle that killed at least six Palestinians and wounded more than two dozen others.
The military said it had killed the suspected assailant behind a fatal shooting of two Israeli brothers in the northern West Bank town of Hawara last week. Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said two Israeli soldiers were wounded in Tuesday’s firefight in Jenin, one seriously.
The Jenin brigade, a loosely organized armed group based in the refugee camp, said its militants shot and hurled explosive devices at Israeli soldiers. The troops had surrounded the suspect’s home on the outskirts of the densely populated Jenin refugee camp, a hub of militant activity. Videos showed black smoke billowing in the distance after the army fired missiles at the besieged building.
Tuesday’s raid was the latest in a string of deadly arrest operations by the Israeli military in the northern West Bank, as violence surges to its highest levels in years. The raid raised fears of further bloodshed as Israel struggles to contain growing unrest led by young Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who are increasingly taking up arms against Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said six people were shot and killed on Tuesday — men ranging in age from 22 to 49 — and 26 others were wounded. Israeli security forces identified 49-year-old Abdul Fattah Kharushah as a Hamas militant who killed the Israeli brothers in Hawara.
The military also said that Palestinian militants had shot down two drones over Jenin. Footage widely shared online showed young men cheering and taking selfies as they held the charred aircraft aloft.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the army for killing the assailant and sent wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded. “Whoever harms us will pay the price,” he said.
The spokesman of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, meanwhile denounced the Israeli military for waging “an all-out war” against the Palestinians and for derailing recent efforts to restore calm.
The army said it also raided the nearby flashpoint city of Nablus and arrested two sons of the suspect, who officials accused of helping their father carry out the attack.
More than 60 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, about half of them militants, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks against Israelis in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have killed 14 people during that same time.
Last month, a rare daytime military raid in the Old City of Nablus targeting the Lion’s Den, a recently formed militant group, sparked an hourslong gunfight that left 10 Palestinians dead. Palestinian armed groups said that six of the casualties were militants. Others appeared to be bystanders.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir joined Jewish revelers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, dancing with residents from the hard-line settler community as they celebrated the holiday of Purim.
Right Wing Radical Now in Government
Ben-Gvir — dressed in a costume combining elements of various uniforms of forces under his command — danced, sang and took selfies with party-goers and soldiers at an event in an Israeli settlement in Hebron. Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist politician in Netanyahu’s new government, lives in an adjacent settlement.
It was the latest show of force by ultranationalist settlers in the occupied West Bank, who have been bolstered by Ben-Gvir and other allies in the new Israeli government. Overnight, settlers injured a Palestinian man in the same Palestinian town where a settler mob burned cars and houses last week.
Hebron is a contested city that is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site considered holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Hundreds of hard-line settlers live in fortified enclaves under military protection in the heart of a city of more than 200,000 Palestinians.
Tuesday’s celebration came under heavy security and passed from a settlement to the Israeli-controlled downtown area, where Palestinians have been evicted or forced to close shops over the years.
Ben-Gvir, who leads a small ultranationalist faction in Netanyahu’s government, has been a well-known face in Hebron for many years. Before entering office, he was arrested dozens of times and was once convicted of incitement and supporting a Jewish terrorist group.
Until recently, he hung a photo in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, a radical Jewish settler who in 1994 killed 29 Palestinians during prayers in the tomb, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque. The shooting happened on Purim that year.
Ben-Gvir, surrounded by bodyguards on Tuesday, is now a prominent figure in Israel’s government, which includes leading members of the settler movement. He held a child and shook hands with the crowd as he explained the significance of his costume. “We love all of you, members of the security forces,” he said.
Tensions have been soaring across Israel and the West Bank.
Late Monday, Jewish settlers wounded a Palestinian man in the town of Hawara, which was torched in a settler rampage last week after the killing of two Israeli brothers. Mobs of Israeli settlers had set buildings and cars on fire in revenge for the shooting.
Stirring fears of further mayhem, settlers returned to the main Hawara thoroughfare Monday in a van, blasting music. Several of them attacked a supermarket, said Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, injuring one man in the head.
Security camera footage from near the shop appeared to show Israeli settlers throwing rocks, and Palestinians hurling stones back.
Other footage appeared to show Israeli settlers dancing with soldiers on the main Hawara road, alongside a van emblazoned with the words “Happy Purim.” The army said the soldiers’ conduct was “not aligned with the behavior expected” and that the incident was under review.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians seek for their future state. In the decades since, more than 500,000 Jewish settlers have moved into dozens of settlements, which the international community considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.