Israeli forces hit the city of Jenin with drone strikes on Monday as part of one of the biggest West Bank incursions in 20 years, killing at least eight people and involving hundreds of troops in gun battles that continued into the afternoon. Drones were clearly audible overhead and the sounds of gunfire and explosives were heard across the city hours after the strikes.
The Jenin Brigades, a unit made up of militant groups based in the city’s crowded refugee camp, said it was engaging Israeli forces and had shot down one of the unmanned aircraft.
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.
For more than a year, army raids in cities such as Jenin have become routine, while there have been a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israelis and rampages by Jewish settler mobs against Palestinian villages.
“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 with injured people.”
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.
The Israeli military said its forces struck a building that served as a command centre for fighters from the Jenin Brigades in what it described as an extensive counterterrorism effort aimed at destroying infrastructure and disrupting militants from using the refugee camp as a base.
As the operation proceeded, Israeli armoured bulldozers plowed up roads in the camp, interrupting city water supplies, the Jenin municipality said. Gunfire continued and aircraft hit at least one other target. A spokesman said the operation would last as long as needed and officials suggested forces could remain for days.
“An operation doesn’t end in one day,” security cabinet member and energy minister Israel Katz told Army radio. Until June 21, when it carried out a strike near Jenin, the Israeli military had not used drone strikes in the West Bank since 2006. But the growing scale of the violence and the pressure on ground forces meant such tactics may continue, a military spokesman said.
“We’re really stretched,” he told journalists. “It’s because of the scale. And again, from our perception, this will minimize friction,” he said, adding that the strikes were based on “precise intelligence.
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