Palestinians return to wreckage after Israel ends West Bank camp raid
Israel has withdrawn its troops from a West Bank militant stronghold – and warned that its most intense military operation in the occupied territory in nearly two decades was not a one-off.
Twelve Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed during the two-day raid in Jenin.
Residents of the refugee camp emerged from their homes to find alleys lined with piles of rubble and flattened or scorched cars.
Bulldozers have started clearing the debris, as thousands of people who had fled the fighting began to return.
The Israeli army claimed to have inflicted heavy damage on militant groups in the operation which included a series of air strikes and the deployment of hundreds of ground troops.
But it remains unclear whether there would be any lasting effect after nearly a year and a half of heavy fighting in the West Bank.
Ahead of the withdrawal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to carry out similar operations if needed.
“At these moments we are completing the mission, and I can say that our extensive operation in Jenin is not a one-off,” he said, during a visit to a military post on the outskirts of Jenin.
“We will eradicate terrorism wherever we see it and we will strike at it.”
The Jenin raid was one of the most intense Israeli military operations in the West Bank since an armed Palestinian uprising against Israel’s open-ended occupation ended two decades ago.
Some of the scenes from Jenin, including massive army bulldozers tearing through camp alleys, were eerily similar to those from the major Israeli incursion in 2002 which lasted for eight days and became known as the battle of Jenin.
Both operations, two decades apart, were meant to crush militant groups in the camp and deter and prevent attacks on Israelis. In each case, the army claimed success.
However, the continued cycle of army raids and Palestinian attacks raised new questions about Israel’s tactics. This week’s raid had wide support across Israel’s political spectrum, but some critics in Israel argued its impact is short-lived, with the slain gunmen quickly replaced by others.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government administers parts of the West Bank, has rejected violence against Israelis, but has effectively lost control over several strongholds of gunmen.
Many Palestinians see the actions of the gunmen as an inevitable result of 56 years of occupation and the absence of any political process with Israel. They also point to increased West Bank settlement construction and violence by extremist settlers.
Palestinian health officials said 12 Palestinians were killed in Jenin and more than 140 were wounded, including 83 who needed treatment in hospital.
Another Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces in an unrelated incident near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Dr Wissam Bakr, the head of Jenin Hospital, said most of the wounded were shot in the head and chest, and that 20 suffered severe injuries.
The Israeli military has claimed it killed only militants.
Summing up the raid, the military said it had confiscated thousands of weapons, bomb-making materials and caches of money. Weapons were found in militant hideouts and civilian areas alike – in one case, beneath a mosque, the military said.
The withdrawal came hours after a Hamas militant rammed his car into a crowded Tel Aviv bus stop and began stabbing people, wounding eight, including a pregnant woman who reportedly lost her baby.
The attacker was killed by an armed bystander. Hamas said the attack was revenge for the Israeli offensive.
Early on Wednesday, militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza also fired five rockets toward Israel, which Israel said were intercepted. Israeli jets then struck several sites in Gaza.
The large-scale raid comes amid a more than yearlong spike in violence that has created a challenge for Mr Netanyahu’s far-right government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have called for tougher action against Palestinian militants only to see the fighting worsen.
More than 140 Palestinians have been killed this year in the West Bank, and Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis have killed at least 25 people, including a shooting last month that killed four settlers.
The sustained operation has raised warnings from humanitarian groups over a deteriorating situation.
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