The Palestinian Authority has announced it is ending security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank after nine Palestinians were killed during a raid by Israeli troops in Jenin on Thursday morning.
Eight of those killed were Palestinian militants, but a woman aged 61 was also killed in the crossfire. Thursday’s incident brings to 30 the number of Palestinians killed this year in the West Bank.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas also declared three days of national mourning in response to what his spokesman called a “massacre” happening “amidst international silence”.
“This is what encourages the occupation government to commit massacres against our people in full view of the world,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.
The initial incursion force of undercover troops arrived in the centre of the Jenin refugee camp undetected inside a large Palestinian milk delivery truck and surrounded the building in which members of an Islamic Jihad cell were holed up.
Two militants were killed fleeing the building and a third was killed in an apartment. The militants had two bombs in the apartment. The Israeli forces detonated them after they entered the building.
A convoy of Israeli military vehicles with more than 100 soldiers reached the scene and militants from different factions joined in a fierce fire fight which lasted almost four hours before the soldiers withdrew. There were no Israeli casualties.
During the operation Palestinian gunmen shot down an Israeli drone hovering above the camp.
According to Palestinian sources the soldiers also fired tear gas towards a local hospital – a claim denied by Israel – and prevented medics from reaching the injured.
The city of Jenin and the adjoining refugee camp has become a hotbed for militant activity and a virtual no-go zone for the Palestinian Authority security forces over the last two years. Night time raids in Jenin by Israeli forces to detain militants are a regular occurrence, but incursions in daylight are extremely rare.
Israel said the operation was launched in response to pinpoint intelligence which led the troops to the hideout that was being used by the Islamic Jihad operatives. The Israeli military described the militant cell as a “ticking bomb” that had already taken part in numerous attacks and was planning a large-scale operation imminently inside Israel.
Protests took place across the West Bank following the clash, and one Palestinian was killed near Jerusalem.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel was not seeking an escalation, but Israeli forces are on heightened alert for the possibility of revenge attacks, including militant rocket fire from Gaza.
Thursday’s incident came just four days before the arrival of US secretary of state Antony Blinken. He will meet Mr Netanyahu, who returned to power after a November election as the head of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. The situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem will be high on the agenda amid concerns in Washington that the Israeli government seeks to expand settlement construction, further undermining prospects for a two-state solution.