Palestinians injured as Israeli army hunts fugitives in West Bank refugee camp
The Israeli army attacked a refugee camp near the Palestinian city of Jericho on Saturday, besieging houses it said served as hiding places for the Palestinian attackers and shooting at residents who opened fire.
The fighting injured six Palestinians, two of them seriously, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, and rocked a generally quiet oasis town that has seen less violence than other towns in the West Bank.
The army said it entered the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, southwest of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, to search for suspects involved in a shooting last week at a nearby Israeli settlement.
Last Saturday, as the West Bank was on edge after the deadliest Israeli military raid in two decades and two subsequent Palestinian attacks in East Jerusalem that killed seven people, the army said a Palestinian gunman opened fire in a restaurant in a settlement near Jericho. After firing a bullet, the shooter fled, the army said. No one was hurt.
The army said several Palestinians had holed up in their homes after the shooting with the help of their families and were planning future attacks.
To force the fugitives to surrender, a military bulldozer clawed at the walls of one of the houses as an Israeli commander shouted threats over a loudspeaker. Camp residents reported receiving text messages urging families to keep their children indoors and avoid clashes with Israeli troops.
The suspects and family members emerged from one of the houses and surrendered, the military said. Security forces had razed much of the house, leaving a pile of rubble and twisted metal. Palestinian protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at military jeeps as they drove through the streets of the camp, while gunmen opened fire. The Israeli army returned fire, injuring six people, none of them seriously, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The incursion comes as violence mounts in Israel and the occupied West Bank under Israel’s new far-right government, which has taken a combative stance against the Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek these territories for the independent state they hope for.
The Israeli army has intensified its near-night raids in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel last spring. Over the past year and a half of escalating raids, Jericho has remained something of a sleepy desert city, spared much of the violence.
Since last week’s shooting in the nearby settlement, the Israeli army has blocked access to several roads leading to Jericho – a closure that has placed the city under a semi-blockade, disrupting business and creating traffic bottlenecks. strangulation for hours at checkpoints that affected even Palestinian security forces, footage showed.
The Palestinian Authority, in retaliation for last week’s raid on the Jenin refugee camp that killed 10 Palestinians, declared a halt to security coordination with Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making it the deadliest in those areas since 2004, according to figures from Israeli rights group B’Tselem. About 30 people were killed in Israel by Palestinians in 2022.
The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But young stone throwers protesting the incursions and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.