“We will do it as long as it takes; there’s no timeline on that right now,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an IDF spokesman, told reporters. Another Palestinian was shot dead by soldiers near the city of Ramallah while protesting the Jenin attack.
New weapons and tactics further entangle the US in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Residents of Jenin reported fires, drones and explosions throughout the day in videos posted on social media. Residents reported receiving text messages from Israeli numbers warning them to stay inside for their own safety. Separate messages to the militants advised them to “surrender for your safety and the safety of those around you”.
Israeli troops remained in the camp overnight as aid groups warned of worsening humanitarian conditions. Ambulances had difficulty navigating many streets, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, and at least some residents of the camp were without water or electricity. An IDF official said the military did not intentionally cut utilities and would work to repair the lines.
The use of air power and a brigade-sized force in the assault represents a significant military escalation in the northern West Bank, which has been the target of frequent Israeli commando-style attacks this year. Clashes have intensified in recent months; among them was a shooting in Jenin on June 19 that killed five Palestinians. A US-built Apache attack helicopter was used to help evacuate Israeli soldiers trapped inside the camp, the first time Israel has resorted to air power in the West Bank since the uprising known as the second intifada earlier in the year 2000
The crowded and impoverished countryside of Jenin, a sprawling sprawl in the center of the city, is largely not controlled by Palestinian Authority security forces and is known as a hub for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other armed factions .
Militants there have deployed roadside explosives and last week tried to fire a crude rocket into Israel, although it failed quickly after launch. The IDF said Monday that troops seized a rocket launcher and hundreds of improvised explosive devices.
Israeli officials said Monday’s offensive was aimed at decisively confronting the city’s long-standing role as a militant base of operations.
Over the past two years, “the majority of terrorist attacks against Israelis originated in Jenin,” wrote Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog. Twitter after the strike
At least 50 attacks against Israeli citizens in recent months were launched from Jenin, according to the IDF, and 19 people who took part in those assaults fled to the camp afterward.
“Our main goal is to basically break that shelter mentality,” Hecht said. “We are not trying to hold the ground; we are acting against very specific targets.”
Monday’s Israeli strikes began shortly after 1 a.m. and destroyed what the IDF said was a militant command center that served as a planning, weapons storage and communications center. The building was surrounded by residential blocks and various facilities used by the United Nations agency responsible for helping Palestinian refugees.
“Now a massacre is happening in the Jenin countryside,” Salim Awad, a 34-year-old restaurant worker, said in a telephone interview Monday from a house where 19 Jenin residents were taking refuge. “The children are crying and screaming, terrified of what is happening.”
Awad said “a thousand Israeli soldiers” entered the camp in the early hours, with bulldozers rolling down Seka Street and partially demolishing several buildings. An airstrike destroyed the Freedom Theater, he said, and he saw a child with a severed leg.
“His brother was by his side crying out for him,” she said.
Israeli soldiers made their way through the streets looking for suspected militants. According to Israeli officials, they encountered strong resistance at first, but many of the militants went into hiding.
According to witnesses and videos on social media, they were still erupting periodically. In the afternoon, soldiers fought their way to a mosque that had harbored snipers, according to Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman.
“We had prior information that this mosque contained weapons and explosive devices,” Hagari said. “Inside we found weapons and tunnels of terror.”
The operation bore the hallmarks of Israel’s regular missions against Islamist factions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, with airstrikes, no fixed end time and substantial military resources.
“We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups,” a spokesman for the US National Security Council told The Washington Post, speaking under the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. “It is imperative to take all possible precautions to avoid the loss of civilian life.”
Israeli officials publicly assured Palestinian leaders that they were not targeting the Palestinian Authority, which has security control of that section of the West Bank under the terms of the 1990s Oslo Accords.
“This operation is not against the Palestinian Authority or its security organizations, which have also had difficulty operating in the Jenin refugee camp,” Hagari said in a radio interview. “We focus solely on that bottleneck, to dismantle it.”
But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the attacks “a new war crime against our defenseless people,” according to a spokesman.
Rival militant groups in the occupied territories expressed their defiance. “Resistance in all areas will not allow the enemy to invade our people in Jenin or its destiny,” a coalition of factions in Gaza said in a statement.
The IDF said it was increasing air defense readiness in southern Israel in the event of rocket fire from Gaza.
Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed militant group that Western nations consider a terrorist organization, said in a statement it would not be deterred by the attacks. “Jenin will not surrender,” said the organization, which has supporters in the city.
Egypt and Jordan, Arab neighbors who maintain relations with Israel, condemned the operation and called for the intervention of the international community. In a sign of regional tensions, Israeli jets carried out airstrikes near Homs, Syria, on Sunday, the Syrian military said, and an anti-aircraft missile fired from the area exploded over central Israel .
Many fear a return to the bloody war of the early 2000s that killed thousands across the region.
According to the United Nations, the Jenin camp has for decades had one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty among refugee camps in the West Bank. Thousands of camp residents are on Israeli watch lists, making them ineligible for work permits.
After the deadly Israeli attack in Jenin, fears escalate in the West Bank
Nearly half of the approximately 140 Palestinians killed by Israel in the West Bank between January 1 and the end of June were affiliated with militant groups, the Associated Press reported. But in several cases, children have been killed as Israeli security forces have adopted increasingly aggressive tactics. In March, a 14-year-old boy was killed during a raid in central Jenin, according to a Washington Post investigation. In June, a 15-year-old girl was killed in another raid.
At least 23 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians this year, according to a Post count of media reports and Israeli government figures. Last month, Hamas gunmen killed four Israelis at a gas station on the outskirts of Eli, a small Israeli hilltop settlement. In response, groups of masked settlers razed Palestinian villages for several days, burning cars and houses. One resident, a Palestinian-American, was killed.
The surge in violence has increased pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, caught between hardline coalition partners who have called for more aggressive military action in the West Bank and Israel’s Western allies who have called for restraint.
The party of Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist settler activist who now serves as Israel’s security minister, boycotted parliamentary votes earlier this year to call for strikes against Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
“Proud of our heroes on all fronts and this morning especially our soldiers operating in Jenin,” Ben-Gvir tweeted on Monday.
Masih reported from Seoul. Sufian Taha in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. The uprising did not occur in 2006. It took place between 2000 and 2005. This version has been corrected.