RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli forces conducted a huge raid on the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern West Bank on Thursday, engaging in a lengthy shootout that left extensive destruction and was one of the deadliest operations in nearly two decades.
The Israeli military described the raid as a “counterterrorism operation” against Islamic Jihad militants involved in attacks against Israelis, which spiked this past spring and led to more than a dozen deaths.
The raid raised fears of expanding violence as Israel struggles to contain a growing insurgency led by young Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. It also comes weeks after Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister once again, heading the most right-wing cabinet in the country’s history, which includes Jewish ultranationalists who have incited violence against Palestinians and called for the annexation of the West Bank.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority said Thursday that it was suspending security coordination with Israel in response to the violence. The authority’s cooperation — which Israel relies on in conducting West Bank raids — is widely despised by Palestinians.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank, seven of the dead in Jenin were 30 or younger and included an 18-year-old. A civilian man and a 61-year-old woman were also killed in the violence in the densely populated urban refugee camp, Palestinian officials said.
Twenty other people were injured, four seriously, the Health Ministry said on Facebook, noting that most of the injured were hit by live fire in the chest or head.
“The situation in Jenin camp is very critical,” Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a separate statement. She accused Israeli forces of preventing ambulances from reaching the injured and “deliberately” firing tear gas at a pediatric ward of a hospital.
The Post could not independently confirm her claims, and Israel had no immediate comment.
The Israeli military said its forces targeted members of Islamic Jihad who were “heavily involved” in planning and carrying out attacks against Israelis, and it accused the militants of opening fire first.
Islamic Jihad said two of its fighters were killed; the militant group Hamas claimed four of the dead. A seventh slain fighter was a member of the al-Aqsa Brigades, which is tied to the Fatah party, according to a local resident, Mohammed Shabi. Fatah controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority administration.
Mahmoud Abbas, the authority’s embattled and aging president, described the events as a “massacre” and announced three days of mourning.
As Abbas’s influence has faded and Israeli raids in the West Bank have intensified, members of the three main Palestinian armed groups have been forming new alliances, especially in Jenin.
The head of Islamic Jihad, Ziyad al-Nakhala, said in a statement that the raid “would not stop the resistance.” The deputy head of Hamas’s political wing called on Palestinian fighters to seek revenge. Both groups have called for Israel’s destruction.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office on Thursday said that Israel “is not looking to escalate” but would “prepare for any scenario.”
Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a brief battle of rocket attacks and airstrikes in Gaza this summer that killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli-led blockade.
Palestinians have limited self-rule in the West Bank, where their lives and movement remain tightly controlled by Israel. Israeli security forces have killed 30 Palestinians in the West Bank since the start of 2023, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Images from the camp Thursday appeared to show extensive damage to buildings and vehicles.
Saleem Awaad, a 27-year-old resident of the camp, said that at first, “three undercover cars entered the center of the camp and there was a clash between them and the resistance fighters,” which escalated into “intense fighting” between Israeli forces and militants that eventually involved dozens of military vehicles, including three bulldozers.
Camp resident Mohammed Shabi, 56, said the house that was the main target of the attack was surrounded and blown up.
“They were shooting at anything that moved. They destroyed roads and cars, even water tanks,” he said, describing it as the worst fighting in 20 years. “The size of the destruction reminds me of 2002 when the occupation forces destroyed the Jenin camp.”
The camp — an urban slum set up in the early 1950s — was the scene of 10 days of fierce fighting in 2002 when the Israeli military carried out a major operation during the violent Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada. An investigation by Human Rights Watch in the weeks after the army withdrew found that at least 52 Palestinians were killed in or around the camp, including at least 22 civilians.
There are almost daily Israeli operations in the West Bank, but the scale of Thursday’s fighting and number of fatalities were unusual.
More than 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank last year, most by Israeli security forces — the highest figure since the United Nations began keeping systematic records in 2005. They included U.S. citizen and Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot while covering a raid at the refugee camp in Jenin on May 11.
The new Israeli government has announced plans to prioritize the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and has already adopted a number of punitive measures against Palestinians. More than 90 U.N. member states expressed “deep concern” recently over Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority — including the freezing of construction and the withholding of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue — after the authority sought support from the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Jordan, Turkey and Qatar, countries Israel has built improved relations with in recent years, issued statements Thursday condemning the raid.
U.N. mediator Tor Wennesland said on Twitter that he was “actively engaged with Israeli and Palestinian authorities to de-escalate tensions, restore calm and avoid further conflict.”
With tensions rising, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to the region next week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Thomas Nides, the American ambassador to Israel, told The Post this month that the United States is committed to keeping the “vision” of the two-state solution alive.
But Israel’s newly appointed national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir — who was previously banned from Israel’s parliament for his membership in an anti-Arab terrorist group — appeared to discount any talk of mediation and praised Thursday’s raid.
“Any terrorist who tries to harm our personnel should know that his blood is forfeit,” said Ben-Gvir, whose ministry controls the Israeli Border Police’s West Bank division.
Bisset reported from London and Berger from Washington. Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.