JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army raided the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday, Palestinian health officials said, leading to a gunbattle that killed at least six Palestinians and wounded 10 others.
Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss events still unfolding, said the army had entered Jenin to arrest suspects involved in the killing of two Israeli brothers in the northern West Bank town of Hawara last week. The army also said it was operating in the nearby flashpoint city of Nablus for the same reason. Residents of Nablus reported that at least two people were arrested before the army withdrew.
The Jenin brigade, a loosely organized armed group based in the refugee camp, said its militants were shooting and throwing explosive devices at Israeli soldiers who had surrounded a house in the refugee camp. Videos showed black smoke billowing from the house after the militant group reported that the army fired missiles at the house when the suspects refused to surrender, the militant group reported.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said six people were shot and killed, including 26-year-old Mohammed Ghazawi, and at least 10 others were wounded. The ministry did not immediately offer further details on the other five killed.
The militant group said on Telegram that its fighters shot down two Israeli drones, posting pictures of young men cheering wildly and taking selfies as they held the charred aircraft aloft. The Israeli military said it was aware of the reports but declined to immediately comment.
Tuesday's raid was the latest in a string of deadly arrest operations by the Israeli military in the northern West Bank, as violence and deaths in the occupied territory surge to the highest levels seen in years. Over the last year of near-daily Israeli military raids, the densely populated Jenin refugee camp has emerged as a hub of militant activity.
More than 60 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, about half of them militants, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 14 Israelis, all but one of them civilians, during that same time.
Last month, a rare daytime military raid in the Old City of Nablus targeting the Lion's Den, a recently formed militant group, sparked an hourslong gunfight that left 10 Palestinians dead. Palestinian armed groups said that six of the casualties were militants. Others appeared to be bystanders.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel’s far-right national security minister joined Jewish revelers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, dancing with residents from the hard-line settler community as they celebrated the holiday of Purim.
Itamar Ben-Gvir — dressed in a costume combining elements of various uniforms of forces under his command — danced, sang and took selfies with party-goers and soldiers at an event in an Israeli settlement in Hebron. Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist politician in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, lives in an adjacent settlement.
It was the latest show of force by ultranationalist settlers in the occupied West Bank, who have been bolstered by Ben-Gvir and other allies in the new Israeli government. Overnight, settlers injured a Palestinian man in the same Palestinian town where a settler mob burned cars and houses last week.
Hebron is a contested city that is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site considered holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Hundreds of hard-line settlers live in fortified enclaves under military protection in the heart of a city of more than 200,000 Palestinians.
Tuesday's celebration came under heavy security and passed from a settlement to the Israeli-controlled downtown area, where Palestinians have been evicted or forced to close shops over the years.
Ben-Gvir, who leads a small ultranationalist faction in Netanyahu’s government, has been a well-known face in Hebron for many years. Before entering office, he was arrested dozens of times and was once convicted of incitement and supporting a Jewish terrorist group.
Until recently, he hung a photo in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, a radical Jewish settler who in 1994 killed 29 Palestinians during prayers in the tomb, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque. The shooting happened on Purim that year.
Ben-Gvir, surrounded by bodyguards on Tuesday, is now a prominent figure in Israel's government, which includes leading members of the settler movement. He held a child and shook hands with the crowd as he explained the significance of his costume. “We love all of you, members of the security forces,” he said.
The celebrations came at a time of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians across the West Bank.
Jewish settlers wounded a Palestinian man in a flashpoint town of Hawara late Monday that was torched in a settler rampage last week, medics said. The town, where a Palestinian shot and killed two Israeli brothers, was the scene of the worst settler-led attack in decades on Feb. 26, as mobs of Israeli settlers set buildings and cars on fire in revenge for the shooting.
Late Monday, a group of settlers came to the main Hawara thoroughfare in a van, blasting music in what Palestinian officials described as a provocation. Monday evening marked the beginning of Purim, which is typically celebrated with costumes and revelry.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, said several Israeli settlers attacked a supermarket. Paramedics said that one man was treated for a head injury.
Security camera footage from near the shop appeared to show Israeli settlers throwing rocks at it, and Palestinians hurling stones back. Outside, Israeli men dressed in black are seen hurling stones and pounding the windows of a car with people inside.
Amateur video footage appeared to show Israeli settlers dancing with soldiers on the main Hawara road, alongside a van with the words “Happy Purim” emblazoned on the side. The army said the soldiers’ conduct was “not aligned with the behavior expected” and that the incident was under review.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians seek for their future state. In the decades since, more than 500,000 Jewish settlers have moved into dozens of settlements, which the international community considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
By ILAN BEN ZION Associated Press
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