Bethan McKernan & Sufian Taha
The Guardian / March 7, 2023
Israeli forces enter camp to find gunman suspected of killing two brothers in Huwara last week.
At least six Palestinians have been killed and 10 wounded in an Israeli army raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, according to Palestinian officials, the latest bloody incident in a new chapter of violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
A fierce gun battle erupted in the crowded refugee camp on Jenin’s western outskirts on Tuesday afternoon after the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) mounted an operation to find the Palestinian gunman suspected of killing two Israeli brothers as they drove through the West Bank town of Huwara last week.
That attack triggered a violent response from Jewish settlers living illegally in the area: about 400 people stormed Huwara and three surrounding villages later in the day, damaging dozens of homes and businesses, setting hundreds of cars alight and killing one man. The rampage – the scale of which made it the worst single episode of settler violence against Palestinians ever recorded – horrified people on both sides of the green line and drew international condemnation.
On Tuesday afternoon, rounds of machine gun fire and the boom of explosives could be heard on the outskirts of Jenin camp, as at least seven drones circled in the sky above. A wedding celebration was put on hold when the fighting broke out; the children present ran outside to see how many drones they could count. “They are not letting anyone in and they are shooting ambulances,” said one wedding guest on the phone with a relative trapped in their home by the shooting.
Footage circulated by members of the Palestinian Red Crescent on social media showed an ambulance with bullet holes in the side, and witnesses said that medics were prevented from reaching the injured. A spokesperson for the IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Later on Tuesday the Israeli army named the suspect from the Huwara attack as Abd al-Fattah Hussein Ibrahim Gharusha, a 49-year-old member of Hamas, adding that he had been “neutralized” in the raid and two of his sons were arrested in a simultaneous operation in the nearby city of Nablus. Large funeral processions for the dead got under way in Jenin’s city centre shortly after sunset.
The Jenin brigade, a loosely organized armed group based in the camp, said on Telegram it had opened fire and thrown explosive devices after the IDF surrounded a house in the camp and fired shoulder-launched missiles. They claimed to have shot down two Israeli drones and injured several soldiers. The IDF said it was aware of those reports.
Tuesday’s raid comes amid a year-old Israeli campaign in the West Bank that the army says targets militants planning attacks against Israelis, but has seen the death toll in the occupied territory surge to the highest level in years. Jenin and Nablus have borne the brunt of the violence, and raids during daylight hours – once rare – appear to be increasing.
At least 70 Palestinians, about half of them combatants, have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, according to tallies by human rights groups and news organizations. Palestinian “lone wolf” attacks have killed 14 Israelis, all but one of them civilians.
The bloodshed has sparked fears of a return to full-blown conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a possibility made more likely by the recent election of the most rightwing government in Israel’s history, which has made no secret of its intention to fully annex the West Bank and alter the status quo on Jerusalem’s holy Temple Mount complex, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sherif.
On Monday night, a group of settlers celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim returned to Huwara: CCTV footage showed them throwing stones at a supermarket and cars, while unverified mobile phone footage appeared to show Israeli soldiers dancing with the settlers on the town’s main road. Paramedics said one Palestinian man was hospitalized being hit in the head.
More than 700,000 Israelis now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories Israel captured in 1967. The presence of Jewish settlements, which are regarded as illegal under international law, are a major obstacle to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian
Sufian Taha in Jenin