Israel on Monday launched its most intense military operation in the occupied West Bank in nearly two decades, carrying out a series of drone strikes and sending hundreds of troops on an open-ended mission. At least ten Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded.
The operation took place in the Jenin refugee camp — an area in the northern West Bank. The fighting, which began shortly after midnight, continued past nightfall.
Throughout the day, black smoke rose from the crowded streets of the camp, a densely populated neighborhood that is home to some 14,000 people, while exchanges of fire rang out and drones could be heard buzzing overhead. Military bulldozers plowed through narrow streets, damaging buildings as they cleared the way for Israeli forces.
“There are bulldozers destroying the streets, snipers are inside and on roofs of houses, drones are hitting houses and Palestinians are killed in the streets,” said Jamal Huweil, a political activist in the camp, predicting the operation would fail.
The military blocked traffic in and out of Jenin, and the city resembled a ghost town. Streets were empty as armored Israeli vehicles patrolled. Piles of burning tires and garbage containers littered traffic circles. Power and water supplies were knocked out in the camp.
With the sound of shooting and explosions in the background, at least 10 ambulances rushed to the overwhelmed local hospital as relatives checked to see if loved ones were inside. One ambulance arrived with a bullet hole in front.
The Palestinians and three Arab countries with normalized ties with Israel – Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – condemned the incursion, as did the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Late Monday, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank held an emergency meeting and said it was halting its already limited contacts with Israel. Leaders said a freeze on security coordination would remain in place, and they vowed to step up activity against Israel in the United Nations and international bodies. They also planned to minimize contacts with the United States.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was unswayed.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said there were a total of about 10 airstrikes — most of them aimed at keeping gunmen away from ground troops.
Neither the prime minister nor Hagari gave any indication when the operation would end.
U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland warned that the escalation in the West Bank was “very dangerous.” Asked about the Israeli drone attacks on residential areas, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: “Attacks on heavily populated areas are violations of international humanitarian law.”
Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian areas, said on Twitter that she was “alarmed by scale of Israeli forces operation” and noted the airstrikes in a densely populated refugee camp. She said the U.N. was mobilizing humanitarian aid.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said many camp residents were in need of food, drinking water and milk powder.
Late Monday, hundreds of Palestinians left the camp to flee the fighting. The Israeli army said it was allowing people who wanted to leave to do so. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said as many as 3,000 people had left by midnight, and they expected the exodus to continue.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least ten Palestinians were killed and 50 people were wounded — 10 critically. The dead were identified as young men and Palestinian youths, including a 16-year-old boy and two 17-year-olds.
Separately, a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire near the West Bank city of Ramallah, the ministry said.
The Jenin camp and an adjacent town of the same name have been a flashpoint since Israeli-Palestinian violence began escalating in spring 2022.