Israeli forces raid West Bank refugee camp, six Palestinians dead

Masked Palestinian gunmen in an alley during an Israeli army raid on a West Bank refugee camp, on Tuesday. PHOTO: AFP

JENIN, West Bank – Israeli forces raided a refugee camp in the volatile West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday, killing at least six Palestinians, including a Hamas gunman suspected of shooting two brothers from a Jewish settlement near the village of Huwara last week.

Witnesses said fighting broke out after residents of the camp saw Israeli soldiers getting out of a furniture truck near a house on a hill overlooking the centre of the sprawling camp and fighters immediately opened fire.

In the ensuing gun battle, Israeli forces surrounded a house where the suspected gunman had barricaded himself with other fighters, and used shoulder-fired missiles against the building, a statement from the military said.

As well as six dead, at least 16 Palestinians were wounded, while one member of the Israeli police force was wounded and three lightly hurt.

The military identified the gunman as Abdel-Fattah Kharusha, a member of the Islamist group Hamas. He is said to have shot two Israelis while they sat in their car at a checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Huwara in the occupied West Bank on Feb 26. The military said his two sons had been arrested in a raid at the same time on the city of Nablus, another centre of militant activity.

Hamas, which runs the blockaded Gaza Strip but also has fighters in the West Bank, issued a statement claiming Kharusha as a member and saying he carried out the Huwara attack, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinians in 2023.

Jenin, a major centre of militant activity in the West Bank where armed fighters parade openly, has been raided repeatedly by Israeli forces during months of violence that has caused increasing fears of a repeat of the intifadas, or uprisings, of the 1980s and early 2000s.

The shooting of the two Israeli brothers triggered a revenge attack by Jewish settlers who killed a Palestinian man and torched dozens of houses and cars in a rampage described as a “pogrom” by a senior Israeli commander.

The rampage triggered worldwide outrage and condemnation, which increased when ultra-nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is responsible for aspects of West Bank administration, said Huwara should be “erased”. The minister later offered a partial retraction of his statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken overnight reiterated calls for both sides to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, and the issue is also expected to be raised by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin when he visits Israel this week.

However, there has been no sign of any let-up in the violence, ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival.

More Huwara violence

Tuesday’s operation in Jenin came after a major reinforcement of Israeli forces in the West Bank following the violence in Huwara, which sits near a major road junction where settlers and Palestinians have frequently clashed.

Despite a crackdown by Israeli police, tensions at Huwara have continued since the shooting, with Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians in the village.

People fleeing amid clashes with Israeli forces (not pictured) during an Israeli army raid on Tuesday on the Jenin camp for Palestinian refugees, in the occupied West Bank. PHOTO: AFP

Israeli army and border police forces dispersed crowds of what the military described as “a number of violent rioters” in Huwara. Videos shared on social media showed a group of black-clad youths attacking a Palestinian car before its driver manages to pull away.

“My wife was sitting in the back and she hugged our daughter to cover her,” said Mr Omar Khalifa, who had just finished shopping at a supermarket and had got into the car with his family when the assault took place. “We could have lost her, there was real danger to our lives.”

Other footage appeared to show Israeli soldiers dancing together with Jewish settlers in the town on what was the Jewish festival of Purim. “Huwara has been conquered, gentlemen!” a voice is heard saying in Hebrew.

The military did not address a question about the footage of soldiers dancing with settlers when it responded to a request for information on the incident. Nor did it immediately respond to a Reuters query on whether there had been any arrests.

Since the beginning of the year, Israeli forces have killed more than 70 Palestinians, including militant fighters and civilians, while in the same period, Palestinians have killed 13 Israelis and one Ukrainian woman in a series of apparently uncoordinated attacks by individuals. REUTERS

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