Israeli forces say several armed Palestinians killed in Jericho raid

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  February 6, 2023

Assault on Aqabat Jabr refugee camp comes as escalating violence raises fears of a third intifada.

Israeli forces say they have killed several armed fighters during an army raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jericho, the latest violence in a period of escalating tensions that has raised fears of a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

A statement from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on Monday morning said “a number of armed assailants were killed after firing toward IDF soldiers who were operating in the area” overnight. The country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, later said agents from the Shin Bet domestic security agency and soldiers had killed five suspects.

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed that five men aged between 21 and 28 had been killed and another man remained in critical condition, while Hamas said in a statement that its fighters were among the dead.

There were no Israeli casualties. According to Palestinian reports, Shaker Amara, a senior Hamas official, was arrested.

The raid overnight on the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, located at the southern entrance of the usually quiet oasis city in the Jordan valley, comes amid the deadliest increase in violence in the West Bank and Israel in years: more than 40 Palestinians, among them children, have been killed since the beginning of 2023, mostly during Israeli army operations to arrest wanted militants.

In January, seven Israelis were shot and killed outside a synagogue in occupied East Jerusalem in an attack carried out by a lone Palestinian gunman.

There have been tit-for-tat exchanges of rocket fire with the Gaza Strip over the last two weeks, and dozens of retaliatory attacks including shootings and the burning of property and cars carried out by Palestinians and Jewish settlers.

The IDF said the targets of Monday’s raid were suspected of an attempted attack on a restaurant in the nearby Jewish settlement of Vered Yeriho last weekend, in which two armed men with suspected links to Hamas tried to shoot diners but fled after their guns jammed. Jericho has since been under semi-blockade by the Israeli military, with road closures creating bottlenecks and disrupting daily life.

The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority declared in the aftermath of a large raid in Jenin that sparked the latest wave of bloodshed that it would suspend security cooperation with Israel, a move it has taken with limited success in the past.

Monday’s deadly raid has increased existing worries that the Israeli military campaign in the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, which has been going on for almost a year and has been met with fierce resistance, is on the verge of engulfing other areas. Last year was the bloodiest on record in the West Bank and Israel since the second intifada of the early 2000s, which left about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead.

The UN, the US and other international bodies have called for restraint on both sides, but the security situation does not show signs of improvement: the weak and corrupt authority has lost control in some areas of the West Bank to a new generation of armed militias.

The most extremist Israeli government in history, which was sworn into office in December, is fuelling the flames by pushing ahead with illegal settlement building in Palestinian territory and home demolitions in East Jerusalem, which was fully annexed by Israel in 1967 and is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state.

Another raid on Aqabat Jabr on Saturday night injured at least seven Palestinians but did not lead to the suspected attackers’ arrests. They were among those killed on Monday, the IDF said.

In the aftermath, shops and schools in Jericho closed as part of a general strike in protest against the raid, and young people set tyres on fire on the main highway into the city.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian