Israeli forces raided a refugee camp in the volatile West Bank city of Jenin yesterday, 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. 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, who it said shot two Israelis while they sat in their car at a checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Huwara in the occupied West Bank on February 26.
It 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 which 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.
Jenin, one of the major centres 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 was increased when ultra-nationalist finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has responsibility for aspects of the West Bank administration, said Huwara should be “erased”.
He later offered a partial retraction.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken reiterated calls for both sides to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, and the violence 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.
Yesterday’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 and overnight Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the village.
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 managed to pull away.