Israel vows to press on with biggest West Bank raid in decades

The biggest Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank for two decades continued in the early hours of Tuesday, with Israeli forces operating in the Jenin refugee camp for the second day.

Backed by armed drones, hundreds of Israeli troops entered Jenin early on Monday, setting off a protracted round of fighting that has forced thousands of Palestinians to flee the densely populated refugee camp, and left scores of buildings and roads destroyed.

Palestinian health officials said on Tuesday that at least 10 Palestinians had been killed and more than 100 injured, 20 of them seriously. One Israeli soldier was also injured.

An Israeli military spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that the army still had 10 sites in Jenin that it intended to search, and that there had not been major fighting overnight between soldiers and militants.

The raid, which the Israeli military said was part of an “extensive counter-terrorism effort”, follows a year of spiralling violence in the West Bank which has sparked concerns that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be on the verge of a renewed eruption.

This year is already on course to be the deadliest in the West Bank — which Palestinians seek as the heart of a future state, but which Israel has occupied since 1967 — since the UN began collecting data in 2005.

According to the latest UN figures, which do not include the most recent fighting, Israeli forces have killed 114 Palestinians in the territory this year, while Palestinians have killed 16 Israelis.

The violence has reached new levels over the past two weeks, with Israel deploying helicopter gunships and armed drones over the West Bank for the first time since the early 2000s, when 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis died during a Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada.

The impoverished Jenin camp, a stronghold for militants from several Palestinian factions, has become a centre of the violence, with Israeli forces raiding it repeatedly over the past 18 months.

The Israeli military on Tuesday said it had destroyed two “situation rooms”, an explosives store, and a grenade launcher belonging to militant groups, and confiscated weapons and other military equipment.

A Red Crescent spokeswoman said on Monday night that about 500 families had been evacuated from the camp, which is home to roughly 14,000 people, but that by midnight Israeli forces had closed its entrances.

She added that its team inside the camp had been denied access to certain locations and was having “great difficulty” moving around because of the destruction.

Médecins Sans Frontières, another aid group, said Israeli military bulldozers had destroyed multiple roads into the camp, “making it nearly impossible for ambulances to reach patients”.

“Palestinian paramedics have been forced to proceed on foot, in an area with active gunfire and drone strikes,” the group said.

Leaders from Arab and Muslim countries condemned the raid, with the Algerian foreign ministry saying it “violate[d] all international norms and laws and the most basic human values”. Turkey’s foreign ministry warned it could trigger “a new spiral of violence”.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the most rightwing government in the country’s history, defended the operation, insisting that Israel was “determining a new equation against terrorism”.

“Our guiding principle is simple: whoever murders Israelis, whoever conspires to murder us, will be in either jail or the grave,” he said at an event on Monday evening.

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