Israeli forces raided a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday, killing at least six Palestinian gunmen, including a Hamas member suspected of shooting dead two brothers from a Jewish settlement near the village of Huwara.
Early on Wednesday, a rocket launch was identified from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, triggering alarms and sending Israelis running to bomb shelters, though the rocket appeared to have landed inside Gaza and not in Israeli territory, the Israeli military said.
Earlier, witnesses said fighting broke out after residents of the refugee camp saw Israeli soldiers getting out of a furniture truck near a house on a hill overlooking the centre of the sprawling camp and fighters immediately opened fire.
In the ensuing gun battle, Israeli forces surrounded a house where the suspected gunman had barricaded himself with other fighters, and used shoulder-fired missiles against the building, the military said in a statement. The Palestinian health ministry said six Palestinians were killed and at least 16 wounded. One member of the Israeli police force was wounded and three lightly hurt.
The military identified one of the gunmen as Abdel-Fattah Kharusha, a member of the Islamist group Hamas, who it said shot two Israelis while they sat in their car at a checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Huwara in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 26. It said his two sons had been arrested in a raid at the same time on the city of Nablus, another centre of militant activity.
According to statements by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all those killed were gunmen from the militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.
“We call upon the fighters of our people everywhere to escalate armed resistance against the occupation and to fight them everywhere on the land of our occupied home,” Hamas’ armed wing said in a statement.
Hamas, which runs the blockaded Gaza Strip but which also has fighters in the West Bank, said Kharusha was a member and that he carried out the Huwara double killing, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinians this year.
Jenin, one of the major centres of militant activity in the West Bank where armed fighters parade openly, has been raided repeatedly by Israeli forces during months of violence that has caused increasing fears of a repeat of the Intifadas or uprisings of the 1980s and early 2000s.
“The risk – not just to Palestine and to Israel but to the region – of the situation escalating out of hand is significant,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, told reporters in London.
The shooting of the two Israeli brothers triggered a revenge attack by Jewish settlers who killed a Palestinian man and torched dozens of houses and cars in a rampage described as a “pogrom” by a senior Israeli commander.
The rampage triggered worldwide outrage and condemnation, which was increased when ultra-nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has responsibility for aspects of the West Bank administration, said Huwara should be “erased.” Smotrich later offered a partial retraction.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated calls for both sides to de-escalate tensions, and the violence is also expected to be raised by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week when he visits Israel.
However, there has been no sign of any let up in the violence, ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Tuesday’s raid which came after a major reinforcement of Israeli forces in the West Bank following the violence in Huwara, which sits near a major road junction where settlers and Palestinians have frequently clashed.
Despite a crackdown by Israeli police, tensions have continued at Huwara and overnight Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the village.
Israeli army and border police forces dispersed what the military described as “a number of violent rioters” in Huwara. Videos shared on social media showed black-clad youths attacking a Palestinian car before its driver manages to pull away.
“My wife was sitting in the back and she hugged our daughter to cover her,” said Omar Khalifa, who had just finished shopping at a supermarket and was in the car with his family. “We could have lost her. There was real danger to our lives.”
Other footage appeared to show Israeli soldiers dancing together with Jewish settlers in the town on what was the Jewish festival of Purim. “Huwara has been conquered, gentlemen!” a voice is heard saying in Hebrew.
The military did not address a question about the footage of soldiers dancing with settlers when it responded to a request for information on the incident. Nor did it immediately respond to a Reuters query on whether there had been any arrests.
Since the beginning of the year, Israeli forces have killed more than 70 Palestinians, including militant fighters and civilians, while in the same period, Palestinians have killed 13 Israelis and one Ukrainian woman in a series of apparently unco-ordinated attacks.