Israeli troops kill 11 in West Bank raid

Martin Chulov

The Guardian  /  February 22, 2023

 Israeli troops killed 11 Palestinians, including a teenager, and wounded dozens more, in a raid on a city in the occupied West Bank city that threatens further bloodshed.

The daytime operation targeted three militants who were near the centre of the old city of Nablus, the Israeli military said. All three wanted men were killed along with seven others, including a 72-year-old man. Palestinian officials said at least 103 people were injured, with many of them sustaining gunshot wounds.

A senior Palestinian official, Hussein al-Sheikh, decried the incursion as a “massacre” and called for “international protection for our people”. The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 66-year-old man who suffered from gas inhalation during the raid died in hospital later on Wednesday.

The raid was one of the biggest of the past year, in which an already combustible situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has steadily worsened. A similar raid in January was followed by a Palestinian militant attack near an East Jerusalem synagogue that killed seven Israelis.

US state department spokesperson Ned Price told a regular press briefing that Washington recognized Israel’s security concerns but was deeply concerned by the large number of injuries and loss of civilian life.

The violence comes at a critical juncture in ties between Israel and the Palestinians, with the new Israeli government dominated by ultranationalists who have vowed a hard line against militants, while at the same time pushing for an expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

A West Bank settler organization announced on Tuesday that the Israeli government had approved the construction of 2,000 new homes in the West Bank. The purported move was not immediately confirmed by officials, but it follows demands for settlement expansion from extreme-right figures who hold significant sway in the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new administration.

Footage taken during Wednesday’s raid depicted convoys of Israeli vehicles speeding through Nablus, with large crowds watching. Some youths threw crates at the cars as they entered a marketplace, before retreating. Others hurled rocks and insults as the convoy speeds by, with soldiers appearing to fire teargas. The centuries-old souk resounded with gunfire, local residents said, and clashes continued for several hours.

One video apparently taken at the scene showed two young men running and falling as shots rang out.

The Israeli military said its forces were confronted with heavy gunfire when they attempted to detain the wanted men. It released images of two automatic weapons it said were seized from the house in which they were located.

Nablus and Jenin had been focal points of Israeli raids that have killed 62 Palestinians since the start of the year, Palestinian health officials say. At the same time, 10 Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist have been killed by Palestinians, according to Israeli officials.

US officials have previously said conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories were ripe for further escalation and urged the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership to resume dialogue. The CIA chief, William Burns, visited both sides in January as tensions soared.

Earlier, the Palestinian Authority had suspended security ties with Israel, a move that means it will not cooperate in the arrest of militants.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, hardline groups whose members have been at the forefront of attacks in recent years, have pledged to carry out more attacks inside Israel.

In the early months of Netanyahu’s new government, the issue of settlements has been at the core of tensions domestically, in the West Bank and at the UN, where Washington recently persuaded member states to water down a resolution condemning settlement construction.

Such a move would have marked a significant development in Israel’s sometimes fraught relationship with the global body. It was averted by US officials extracting a pledge from Israel to suspend construction.

Saudi Arabia condemned the Nablus raid. Egypt, which often acts as a broker between Israel and Hamas, expressed “extreme concern” over the escalation.

Israel has over the past several years forged new relations with some Arab states, including the UAE and Bahrain as part of the Abraham accords, which have formalized trade, security and economic ties, and overturned decades of policies that had prioritized the Palestinian cause.

The pacts have often been met with silence by residents of Arab countries, where residents still identify strongly with the fate of Palestinians.

US attempts to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians flat-lined during the Trump administration and show little sign of resuming more than a year into Joe Biden’s White House.

Martin Chulov covers the Middle East for The Guardian