Israeli raid in West Bank kills 9 in deadliest clash in years

Published: 08:36 PM, 26 Jan, 2023
Mourners carry the body, draped in a national flag, of one of nine Palestinians killed during an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. AFP
Caption: Mourners carry the body, draped in a national flag, of one of nine Palestinians killed during an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. AFP
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Israeli forces in a West Bank raid killed nine Palestinians Thursday, said officials in the occupied territory, while the Israeli military said troops traded fire with Islamist militants during a "counterterrorism operation".

The Palestinian health ministry accused Israeli forces of deliberately firing tear gas inside a hospital's paediatric ward, leaving children choking -- a claim denied by an army spokesman who added that gas may have drifted into the clinic through a window.

The bloodiest day in the West Bank in years erupted during a raid on the crowded refugee camp in the northern city of Jenin, where gunshots rang through the streets and smoke billowed from burning street barricades.

The Palestinian health ministry said the death toll from the clashes rose to "nine martyrs" including a woman, and that 20 people were wounded before the Israeli forces withdrew mid-morning.

The military said Israeli forces came under fire during a "counterterrorism operation to apprehend an Islamic Jihad terror squad", whose members they blamed for past attacks, and that they had shot several enemy combatants.

Since its records began in 2005, the United Nations has never recorded such a high death toll in a single operation in the West Bank.

Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila charged that "occupation forces stormed Jenin Government Hospital and intentionally fired tear gas canisters at the paediatric department in the hospital".

Israel's army denied the forces entered the hospital. "But the activity was not far away from the hospital and it is possible some tear gas entered through an open window," a spokesman told AFP.

Situation 'critical'

The health minister described the situation in the crowded refugee camp as "critical" and said Israeli forces were for some time preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded.

Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Rub told AFP that residents were living in a "real state of war" and charged that "the Israeli army is destroying everything and shooting at everything that moves".

The military said the incursion targeted Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad militant group who were allegedly behind attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Three Palestinians were shot in a firefight, while Israeli forces shot a further two "fleeing the scene", an army statement said. Israeli forces also shot a sixth suspect inside a building, and other Palestinians were hit after firing on troops, the army said.

"Claims regarding additional casualties during the exchange of fire are being looked into," it added.

No members of the Israeli forces were wounded, the military said.

Jenin resident Umm Youssef Al-Sawalmi said homes were hit during the raid. "Windows, doors, walls and even the refrigerator, everything was damaged by the bullets" fired by Israeli forces, she told AFP.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi vowed that "the resistance is everywhere and ready and willing for the next confrontation".

The latest deaths bring the number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank so far this year to 29, including fighters and civilians, most of whom were shot by Israeli forces.

Saleh al-Arouri, deputy leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas which rules Gaza, vowed that Israel "will pay the price for the Jenin massacre".

'International silence'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to hold a security assessment later Thursday, his office said.

The Arab League held "the Israeli government led by Netanyahu fully responsible for committing the horrific bloody massacre" and called for international action.

The mounting toll follows the deadliest year in the Palestinian territory recorded by the UN.

At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.

UN peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was "deeply alarmed and saddened by the continuing cycle of violence in the occupied West Bank".

"The deaths today of nine Palestinians, including militants and one woman, during an Israeli arrest operation in Jenin is another stark example," he said.

The Palestinian health minister called for an urgent meeting with the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross over the events in Jenin.

Thousands flocked to funerals in Jenin, as the Palestinian presidency announced three days of official mourning. It charged that Thursday's raid on Jenin was happening "under international silence".

"This is what encourages the occupation government to commit massacres against our people in full view of the world," said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Categories : World

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.