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Thousands of Palestinians flee Jenin refugee camp after major Israeli raid

Deputy governor says about 3,000 have left, to be housed in schools and shelters, as Arab states condemn military operation


Several thousand Palestinians have fled their homes in the Jenin refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank after the launch of the biggest Israeli military operation in the area in two decades, Palestinian officials say.


“There are about 3,000 people who have left the camp so far,” the Jenin deputy governor, Kamal Abu al-Roub, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday, adding that arrangements were being made to house refugees in schools and other shelters in Jenin city.


The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service gave the same figure and said it expected the exodus to continue, amid suggestions from Israel that Operation Home and Garden, which began in the early hours of Monday, could last several more days.


UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said many people in the camp needed food, drinking water and milk powder, as the fighting raged for a second day.


There were hours-long queues at checkpoints on Highway 60 – the main north-south route in the West Bank – as those attempting to access or leave Jenin, including at least one ambulance, were forced on to sometimes unpaved mountain roads.


The Palestinian health ministry said at least 10 people had been killed and 100 injured, 20 of them critically, since Israel launched a series of drone strikes and sent up to 2,000 ground troops, backed by armoured bulldozers and snipers on rooftops, into the city and its refugee camp.


With Israel alert for reprisal attacks, Israeli police said on Tuesday that a motorist had caused six casualties in a car-ramming in Tel Aviv, after carrying out a suspected stabbing attack. They said it was a terrorist attack. The alleged attacker was killed at the scene by an armed civilian, police told Israel’s Army Radio. Later, the Tel Aviv police chief said the suspect was a Palestinian from the West Bank.


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the Jenin operation was targeting a major Palestinian militant command centre, with Israel carrying out an airstrike on Monday afternoon near a mosque in the camp that the army said was being used by Palestinian gunmen.


Jenin camp was set up in the 1950s to house refugees fleeing their homes in 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel. The ghetto-like area, plagued by poverty, has long been a hotbed of what Palestinians consider armed resistance and Israelis call terrorism.


Roub said about 18,000 Palestinians lived in the crowded camp, but the exact figure is not known. The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency puts the number at 14,000, while official Palestinian data from 2020 says it is home to 12,000 people.


Hundreds of armed militants from groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah are based there, and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, viewed by many Palestinians as a subcontractor for Israeli security, has little presence.


The Jenin Brigades, a unit of armed men from different factions, has been blamed for several terrorist attacks against Israelis as the security situation across Israel and the West Bank has deteriorated. The past 18 months have seen the worst bloodshed in the two areas since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, ended in 2005.

Thousands of Palestinians flee Jenin refugee camp after major Israeli raid

Deputy governor says about 3,000 have left, to be housed in schools and shelters, as Arab states condemn military operation


Several thousand Palestinians have fled their homes in the Jenin refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank after the launch of the biggest Israeli military operation in the area in two decades, Palestinian officials say.

“There are about 3,000 people who have left the camp so far,” the Jenin deputy governor, Kamal Abu al-Roub, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday, adding that arrangements were being made to house refugees in schools and other shelters in Jenin city. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service gave the same figure and said it expected the exodus to continue, amid suggestions from Israel that Operation Home and Garden, which began in the early hours of Monday, could last several more days.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said many people in the camp needed food, drinking water and milk powder, as the fighting raged for a second day.

There were hours-long queues at checkpoints on Highway 60 – the main north-south route in the West Bank – as those attempting to access or leave Jenin, including at least one ambulance, were forced on to sometimes unpaved mountain roads.

The Palestinian health ministry said at least 10 people had been killed and 100 injured, 20 of them critically, since Israel launched a series of drone strikes and sent up to 2,000 ground troops, backed by armoured bulldozers and snipers on rooftops, into the city and its refugee camp. With Israel alert for reprisal attacks, Israeli police said on Tuesday that a motorist had caused six casualties in a car-ramming in Tel Aviv, after carrying out a suspected stabbing attack. They said it was a terrorist attack. The alleged attacker was killed at the scene by an armed civilian, police told Israel’s Army Radio. Later, the Tel Aviv police chief said the suspect was a Palestinian from the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the Jenin operation was targeting a major Palestinian militant command centre, with Israel carrying out an airstrike on Monday afternoon near a mosque in the camp that the army said was being used by Palestinian gunmen.

Jenin camp was set up in the 1950s to house refugees fleeing their homes in 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel. The ghetto-like area, plagued by poverty, has long been a hotbed of what Palestinians consider armed resistance and Israelis call terrorism.

Roub said about 18,000 Palestinians lived in the crowded camp, but the exact figure is not known. The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency puts the number at 14,000, while official Palestinian data from 2020 says it is home to 12,000 people. Hundreds of armed militants from groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah are based there, and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, viewed by many Palestinians as a subcontractor for Israeli security, has little presence.

The Jenin Brigades, a unit of armed men from different factions, has been blamed for several terrorist attacks against Israelis as the security situation across Israel and the West Bank has deteriorated. The past 18 months have seen the worst bloodshed in the two areas since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, ended in 2005.

Operation Home and Garden has drawn comparisons with Israeli military tactics employed during that war and comes at a time of growing political pressure for a tough response to recent attacks on Israeli settlers, including a shooting last month that killed four Israelis.

Monday’s events bring the death toll of Palestinians killed in the West Bank this year to 133. A total of 24 Israelis have been killed, and a surprise five-day Israeli operation in the blockaded Gaza Strip killed another 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.

The Palestinians and three Arab countries with normalised ties with Israel – Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – condemned the incursion, as did the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The White House said it defended Israel’s right to security and was monitoring the situation in the West Bank closely.

In the UK, Foreign Office minister Anne Marie Trevelyn called on Israel to show proportionality and restraint, but did not urge it to halt the operation, in response to an urgent question the Commons. She said the British government was deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the region and adding de-escalation will be sought in a meeting with Israel’s ambassador.

The Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Alicia Kearns, warned the world was standing on the precipice of a third intifida and called for support for diplomatic initiatives to end the violence.

Palestinians run to take cover during clashes sparked by the raid by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Jenin. [Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock]

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank held an emergency meeting late on Monday, and said it would halt its already limited contacts with Israel. Leaders said a freeze on security coordination would remain, and vowed to step up activity against Israel in the UN and international bodies. They also planned to minimise contacts with the US.


Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, defended the incursion, saying that in recent months Jenin had turned into a “safe haven for terrorism”. He said he was putting an end to this with “minimum harm to civilians”.


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


Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesperson, said Israel had launched the operation because of about 50 attacks over the past year from Jenin. Hagari added that the incursion was expected to last up to three days, and Israel did not intend to hold ground in Jenin or any areas under the supposed jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.


Jenin and nearby Nablus have been the main 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. Vigilante attacks by West Bank-based Israeli settlers against Palestinian villages are also growing in scale and scope.


Despite the step-up in military activity, the security situation has deteriorated and Palestinian attacks are becoming deadlier: four Israelis were killed at a petrol station in the West Bank last month.


With agencies

 

(c) 2023, The Guardian

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