Israel’s military said on Wednesday it had withdrawn from the West Bank city of Jenin after a large-scale crackdown that killed at least 12 Palestinians, left one Israeli soldier dead and sent thousands fleeing their homes.
Even as Palestinian militant groups celebrated the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers – initially confirmed by Israeli and Palestinian officials – sirens blared in Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip after five missiles were fired from the Palestinian enclave, said the Israeli military. No injuries were immediately reported, and the military said Israel’s air defense system had caught all five.
In response to the rocket fire, Israeli fighter jets struck what the military described as an underground Hamas facility used for the manufacture of weapons and another site used by Hamas for the production of raw rocket materialsaccording to posts on Twitter. Hamas is the Palestinian militant faction that controls Gaza.
Israel’s chief military spokesman said on Wednesday morning that the operation in Jenin, focused on the refugee camp in the city, had ended. “All our troops are outside the camp,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told Kan News, Israel’s public radio.
But he added that he expected the Israeli military would have to return to operate in the area in the future.
The Jenin operation, which began on Monday with a rare use of airstrikes, was the largest that Israel has launched in the area in many years. The area has been the source of dozens of shooting attacks against Israelis, according to Israeli military data. Jenin is a stronghold for the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamasas well as home to newer armed militias that have arisen and do not correspond to the established organizations.
Four of the Palestinians killed were under the age of 18, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, and at least five were claimed by Palestinian militant groups as fighters, including a 16-year-old boy. At least 120 other people were injured, including 20 seriously, the ministry. said
Amid the military operation, eight people were injured by a Palestinian driver in a car bombing and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Israeli officials said. The attacker was shot and killed by a civilian, Israeli security officials said.
The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, identified the attacker as Abd al-Wahab Khalaila, a 20-year-old Palestinian from Samua, a small town in the southern West Bank. Mr. Khalaila had no prior security record, the agency said.
“We assessed that because of our activity in Judea and Samaria, the motivation and potential for attacks will rise,” the Israeli police chief, Yaakov Shabtai, told reporters, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the attack would not deter Israel “in our fight against terrorism.”
The military operation in Jenin and the attack in Tel Aviv added to the tension in the region, after the most right-wing government in Israeli history took power six months ago. The leaders of the coalition government promised to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory and manage a tougher response to violence, while the Palestinian Authority increasingly lost control of flare-ups of militancy in the occupied West Bank.
The military incursion sent people fleeing, with as many as 3,000 of the camp’s roughly 17,000 residents seeking shelter in schools and other public buildings, or with families elsewhere. The sun rose on Tuesday over deserted alleys in the Jenin refugee camp, a usually crowded neighborhood near the West Bank city that was the focus of the incursion.
“We huddled in the middle of our house, terrified that a rocket could hit us at any moment,” said Omar Obeid, 60, a resident of the camp who fled the fighting with his children late Monday night.
About 1,000 Israeli soldiers searched the camp on Tuesday after earlier finding and seizing caches of weapons, explosives and other military equipment, according to the Israeli army, which added that its forces also destroyed explosives-making laboratories.
Clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants intensified on Tuesday evening after a relatively calmer period of scattered gunfire. The Israeli military said its air force struck Palestinian militants on the outskirts of the city, while Palestinian officials accused Israeli soldiers of firing tear gas into a hospital. The Israelis denied any attacks near hospitals.
Mr. Netanyahu said late Tuesday afternoon, during a visit to a military base near Jenin, that the operation was in its final stages. “At this moment, we are completing the mission,” he said.
Analysts and former generals with the Israeli military said it was in Israel’s interest to end the operation as soon as possible to avoid an escalation in Jenin and prevent any spillover of tensions into other areas, such as the Hamas-controlled territory of Gaza, which could result in a wider conflict.
The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories at the request of the United Arab Emirates, according to a UN post on Twitter.
Jenin, long a militant fortress, was at the center of rising tensions and violence in the year before the Monday morning raid. As the military continued its operation there, Israeli television reported that the attack on civilians in Tel Aviv injured a pregnant woman who lost her baby,
In security camera footage broadcast on Israeli television, a car can be seen crashing into a sidewalk in a residential area in the northern part of the city. The driver then leaves his car and chases and stabs passers-by while brandishing a heavy object. Three people were in serious condition, police said.
Hamas claimed Mr Khalaila as a member and praised the attack as a response to “the aggression of the Zionist occupation in Jenin”. But Palestinian groups were known to claim as members or to publicly honor all those killed by Israel, and Hamas stopped short of taking direct responsibility for the attack.
Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued statements later Tuesday declaring victory as signs of an Israeli withdrawal emerged.
Israeli officials said the latest military incursion was not aimed at capturing or holding territory in Jenin. The chief military spokesman, Admiral Hagari, said on Tuesday that 120 wanted men had been detained and questioned by the security services.
“There is not a point in the camp that we have not reached, including its core,” Admiral Hagari wrote on Twitter tuesday morning He said that each of the military units operating in the camp had been given some definite targets to search for during the day, adding, “If we encounter friction with terrorists – we will fight them too.”
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, called on the international community, including the United States, to “immediately intervene” to “stop the Israeli aggression and force Israel to immediately withdraw from Jenin and its camp”, warning of the displacement of a large number of residents. .
The Palestinian Authority announced that it had stopped all contact with Israel over the Jenin attack.
The Israeli operation began shortly after 1 a.m. Monday with drone airstrikes, a new tactic used by Israel in the West Bank. The strikes were the most intensive use of air power in the occupied territory in about two decades.
Israel has said that all the Palestinians who have been killed so far have been fighters. The Palestinian authorities did not specify whether those who died were all fighters or included civilians.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces also said on Twitter that a soldier was killed “by gunfire” during the military operation on Tuesday evening.
Some Palestinian officials said Israel threatened and forced camp residents to evacuate their homes.
“Houses were demolished, broken into, and people were forced from their own homes,” the mayor of Jenin, Nidal Obeidi, told the Voice of Palestine radio station on Tuesday.
Israeli officials denied that they had carried out any forced evacuations but confirmed that some residents had received text messages from Israeli numbers advising them to leave their homes temporarily.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel; Mira Noveck from Jerusalem; and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.