Palestinian president visits Jenin refugee camp after devastating Israeli raid
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the occupied West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp on Wednesday in the wake of a devastating Israeli offensive last week, marking his first visit to the camp since 2005.
The visit came at a time of seething discontent among Palestinians in the West Bank over his leadership and the Palestinian Authority, the autonomous government which administers parts of the West Bank but whose forces have largely lost control over several militant strongholds in the region – including Jenin.
The 87-year-old president is widely seen as out of touch with the public and rarely ventures outside his Ramallah headquarters, making Wednesday’s visit notable.
Mr Abbas’s visit to the Jenin refugee camp came a week after Israel launched a massive two-day military operation there, the largest in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
At least 12 Palestinians were killed, thousands were forced to flee their homes and large swathes of the camp were left in ruins.
An Israeli soldier was also killed in the operation, which the Israeli army said was necessary to crack down on Palestinian militant groups following a spate of recent attacks.
Mr Abbas arrived in Jenin on board a Jordanian helicopter on Wednesday afternoon.
Thousands of people clustered around his heavy security detail, and children chased his motorcade as it moved along the streets.
He visited a freshly-dug cemetery, where he laid a wreath on the graves of those killed in last week’s operation, before speaking to a tightly-packed crowd.
“Jenin camp is the icon of struggle, steadfastness and challenge,” he said, and pledged that the reconstruction of the camp would begin immediately.
“I say to everyone near and far, this country is safe and its authority will remain one… we must get rid of the occupation and we say to them: leave us, we are here to stay.”
Mr Abbas’s leadership has come under criticism over rampant corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the lack of any progress towards independence.
Just 17% of Palestinians are satisfied with his leadership and 80% want him to resign, according to a Palestinian public opinion poll in June.
The Palestinian Authority has long drawn resentment for its security co-operation with Israel, which allows its security forces to crack down on rival militant groups such as Hamas, but the Jenin raid further degraded its reputation among many Palestinians.
US President Joe Biden said in an interview with CNN this week that “the Palestinian Authority has lost its credibility” among Palestinians and has “created a vacuum for extremism” in the West Bank.
Mr Abbas’s visit to the Jenin camp came after a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office that his government will take steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but gave no specific details.
Since taking office in December, several ultranationalist ministers in Mr Netanyahu’s government have called for the Palestinian Authority to be disbanded.
Mr Netanyahu heads one of the most hardline governments in Israel’s history, made up of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox factions along with his ruling Likud party.
Over the last year, Israel has carried out stepped-up raids into Palestinian areas in response to deadly Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis over the past year.
More than 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the year, while at least 26 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
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