Thousands of Palestinians flee Jenin refugee camp after major Israeli raid in West Bank

TG Staff

The Guardian  /  July 4, 2023

Arrangements are being made to house refugees from the camp in other locations, as Arab countries condemn military operation.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled the Jenin refugee camp after the Israeli army launched a major operation in the occupied West Bank, a senior Palestinian official has said.

“There are about 3,000 people who have left the camp so far,” Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Roub told the AFP news agency, adding that arrangements were being made to house them in schools and other shelters in the city of Jenin. He said about 18,000 Palestinians normally reside in the camp.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service gave the same figure and said it expected the exodus to continue, amid suggestions from Israel the operation could last for days.

Israel on Monday launched its most intense military operation in the occupied West Bank in nearly two decades, carrying out a series of drone strikes and sending hundreds of troops on an open-ended mission into a militant stronghold. At least 10 people were killed, with 100 injured, 20 of them critically, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Juliette Touma, spokesperson for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, confirmed to AFP that residents of the camp were leaving. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said many camp residents were in need of food, drinking water and milk powder.

The camp on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city of Jenin was set up in the 1950s and the ghetto-like area has long been viewed as a hotbed of what Palestinians consider armed resistance and Israelis see as terrorism.

Hundreds of armed fighters from militant groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah are based there, and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority has next to no presence.

The Jenin Brigades, a unit made up of armed men from different factions, has been blamed for several terror attacks against Israeli citizens as the security situation across Israel and the West Bank has deteriorated over the past 18 months.

Monday’s events bring the death toll of Palestinians killed this year in the West Bank to 133, part of more than a year-long rise in violence that has resulted in some of the worst bloodshed in that area in nearly two decades.

The Palestinians and three Arab countries with normalized ties with Israel – Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – condemned the incursion, as did the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The White House said it defended Israel’s right to security and was monitoring the situation on the West Bank closely, while Britain’s prime minster, Rishi Sunak, called on the Israeli military to exercise restraint.

“While we support Israel’s right to self-defence, the protection of civilians must be prioritized,” a spokesperson said.

Palestinian leadership in the West Bank held an emergency meeting late on Monday, saying it would halt its already limited contacts with Israel. Leaders said a freeze on security coordination would remain in place, and they vowed to step up activity against Israel in the United Nations and international bodies. They also planned to minimize contacts with the United States.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, defended the incursion saying “in recent months, Jenin has turned into a safe haven for terrorism. We are putting an end to this.”

He said troops were destroying militant command centres and confiscating weapons supplies and factories. He claimed the operation was taking place with “minimum harm to civilians”.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesperson, said there were a total of about 10 airstrikes – most of them aimed at keeping gunmen away from ground troops. He accused militants of operating next to a United Nations building and storing weapons inside a mosque.

He said Israel launched the operation because about 50 attacks over the past year had emanated from Jenin. Hagari added that the incursion was expected to last between one and three days, and Israel did not intend to hold ground.

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that the escalation in the West Bank was “very dangerous.” Asked about the Israeli drone attacks on residential areas, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said: “Attacks on heavily populated areas are violations of international humanitarian law.”

The joint aerial and ground incursion into the camp is the first since the 2002 battle of Jenin during the second intifada, when more than 50 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in over a week of fighting, including 13 Israeli soldiers in a single incident.

Jenin and nearby Nablus have been the major targets of the now more than year-old Israeli Operation Breakwater, which has involved near-nightly raids and some of the fiercest fighting in the West Bank since the second intifada came to an end in 2005. Vigilante attacks by West Bank-based Jewish settlers against Palestinian villages are also growing in scale and scope.

Only days before a drone strike last month in Jenin, for the first time since the Second Intifada, the army used helicopter gunships to help extract troops and vehicles from a raid on the city, after fighters used explosives against a force sent in to arrest two suspects.

After the last major raid in Jenin, Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank in an attack that led to a rampage by settlers in Palestinian villages and towns.

With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press