Concerns over escalating violence after Israeli forces kill nine Palestinians during West Bank raid | Israel
Washington has expressed concern about the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence after Israeli forces on Thursday killed nine Palestinians in a West Bank raid in what was the territory’s deadliest day in decades.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed concern that the security situation could deteriorate after two rockets were fired from Gaza on Friday morning, and Israel responded with airstrikes on the territory.
On Sunday, a senior US diplomat will travel to the Middle East to discuss the situation, with visits to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank scheduled.
The trip was announced just hours after Israeli commandos killed seven militants and two civilians in the occupied West Bank.
A 61-year-old woman and a civilian man were among the dead, with about 20 others seriously injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Two of the victims were claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants, four by Hamas and one by the armed wing of the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank and is working with Israel to contain militant activity, announced Thursday night that it was suspending security cooperation with the Israeli government, a move it had taken on a temporary basis in the past.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers arrived early Thursday at several entrances to the Jenin refugee camp, a militant stronghold in northern Palestinian territory, said Sakir Khader, a Palestinian-Dutch filmmaker who arrived on the scene. Armed Palestinians fired on an Israeli armored personnel carrier disguised as a commercial van, after which the IDF returned fire and a fierce four-hour firefight ensued, causing significant damage. he said.
“I was stuck in the middle of a firefight for hours,” Kader said. “It was crazy. There were snipers and drones and they used a bulldozer to block the street. It destroyed a lot of cars and a public meeting place.
“In the hospital, mothers are looking for their sons… Everything is still very tense. I have been in Palestine all my life and have never seen anything like it.”
“The situation in the Jenin camp is very critical,” Palestinian Health Minister May al-Qayla said in a statement. She added that Israeli forces prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded.
The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out an unusual daytime operation in which it infiltrated deep into the camp as intelligence suggested a cell linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was planning to launch imminent attacks on Israelis.
The death toll from the raid is the highest in a single operation ever recorded by the United Nations since the international organization began keeping records in 2005.
Shortly after midnight on Friday, Palestinian militants fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel, which were intercepted by a missile defense system. Then Israel launched strikes on Gaza.
There were no immediate claims of rocket fire and no immediate reports of casualties from subsequent Israeli airstrikes.
Senior US State Department Middle East official Barbara Leaf said the administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that reports of civilian casualties in Jenin were “very unfortunate.” But she also said that the Palestinians’ announcement of a suspension of security ties was a mistake.
“Obviously we don’t think it’s the right move at the moment,” she told reporters, saying the Palestinians’ promise to take the case to the UN and the International Criminal Court is problematic.
UN and Arab mediators said Thursday afternoon that talks were underway with Israel and Palestinian factions in the West Bank and Gaza to calm the situation. The United Arab Emirates, China and France also asked the UN Security Council to meet behind closed doors on Friday.
Israel has not given any direct indication that it is negotiating. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant put troops in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza border on high alert.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel does not seek to escalate the situation, although he ordered the security forces to “prepare for all scenarios in various sectors.”
Tensions in the decades-old conflict have risen sharply as violence has escalated, and recent opinion polls show support for the dormant peace process on both sides has hit an all-time low.
The recent election of the most right-wing government in Israeli history is expected to exacerbate an already unstable situation. Members of the new Israeli coalition have pledged to speed up the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank – a practice that nullifies the possibility of a two-state solution – and loosen the rules for the participation of soldiers and police.
The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.