Nine Palestinians killed in deadliest single raid by Israel in two decades
Nine Palestinians have been killed during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank – the deadliest single raid in two decades.
Gaza militants fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes early on Friday as tensions soared following the raid which killed at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
The flare-up in violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Of the five rockets fired at Israel, three were intercepted, one fell in an open area and another fell short inside Gaza, the military said.
It said the airstrikes targeted an underground rocket manufacturing site for Hamas as well as militant training areas.
The rockets set off air raid sirens in southern Israel but there were no reports of casualties on either side.
Both the Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes seemed limited so as to prevent escalation into a full-blown war.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Thursday’s deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp was likely to reverberate on Friday as Palestinians gather for weekly Muslim prayers that are often followed by protests.
Hamas had earlier threatened revenge for the raid.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants.
Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The Palestinian Authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp.
But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin.
President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Mr Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people”.
He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable”.
But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties and to pursue the matter at international organisations was a mistake.
Thursday’s gun battle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis.
The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad claimed three others.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B’Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.