6 June 2024

Israeli forces in a West Bank raid killed nine Palestinians and fired tear gas inside a hospital children’s ward, Palestinian officials said, while the Israeli military said they had traded fire with Islamist militants during a “counterterrorism operation”.  

The bloodiest violence in months in the Palestinian territories erupted during a raid on the crowded refugee camp in the northern city of Jenin, where gunshots rang through the streets and smoke billowed from burning street barricades.

The Palestinian health ministry said the death toll from the clashes rose to “nine martyrs, including an elderly woman” and that 20 people were wounded before the Israeli forces withdrew mid-morning.

The military said Israeli forces came under fire during a “counterterrorism operation to apprehend an Islamic Jihad terror squad”, whose members they blamed for past attacks, and had shot several enemy combatants.

Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila charged that “occupation forces stormed Jenin Government Hospital and intentionally fired tear gas canisters at the paediatric department in the hospital”, leaving children choking.

Israel’s army repeatedly declined to comment when asked by AFP about the minister’s tear gas allegation.

The minister described the situation in the crowded refugee camp as “critical” and said Israeli forces were preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded.

Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Rub told AFP that residents were living in a “real state of war” and charged that “the Israeli army is destroying everything and shooting at everything that moves.”

The military said the incursion targeted Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad militant group who were allegedly behind attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Three Palestinians were killed in a firefight, while Israeli forces shot a further two “fleeing the scene”, an army statement said. Israeli forces shot a sixth suspect inside a building and other Palestinians in a firefight, they said.

No members of the Israeli forces were wounded, the military said.

– ‘International silence’ –

Thursday’s reported fatalities bring the number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank so far this year to 29, including fighters and civilians, most of whom were shot by Israeli forces.

An AFP photographer saw young Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli military vehicles before the forces withdrew from Jenin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “being regularly updated on the security events, and will hold a security assessment later,” his office said.

The mounting toll follows the deadliest year in the Palestinian territory since United Nations records began in 2005.

At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Palestinian presidency said Thursday’s raid on Jenin was happening “under international silence”.

– ‘Decisive battle’ –

“This is what encourages the occupation government to commit massacres against our people in full view of the world,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The Palestinian health minister called for an urgent meeting with the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross over the events in Jenin.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, said “what’s happening in Jenin is part of a decisive battle with the occupation,” its term for Israel.

“Resistance factions are playing their leading role in confronting the occupation,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.

The latest violence comes a day after Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in separate incidents.

A 22-year-old killed near the West Bank city of Qalqilya, after the Israeli army claimed he tried to stab soldiers.

Israeli forces subsequently killed a 17-year-old boy who appeared to point a fake gun at police during an operation in the Shuafat refugee camp in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The teenager was the fifth Palestinian minor killed during operations by Israeli forces so far this month.