The Israeli army raided a refugee camp near the Palestinian city of Jericho on Saturday, besieging houses it said were being used as hideouts for Palestinian attackers and shooting at residents who opened fire. The fighting wounded six Palestinians, two seriously, said the Palestinian Health Ministry, and jolted a generally quiet oasis town that has seen less violence than other West Bank cities.
The army said it entered the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp southwest of Jericho in the occupied West Bank to search for suspects involved in a shooting attack last week at a nearby Israeli settlement.
Last Saturday, with the West Bank on edge after the deadliest Israeli military raid in two decades and two subsequent Palestinian attacks in east Jerusalem that killed seven people, the army said a Palestinian gunman had opened fire in a restaurant at a settlement near Jericho. After firing one bullet, the gunman fled the scene, the army said. No one was wounded.
The army said several Palestinians had holed up in their homes after the shooting with the help of family and were planning future attacks.
To force the fugitives to surrender, a military bulldozer clawed at the walls of one of the homes as an Israeli commander shouted threats over a loudspeaker. Camp residents reported receiving text messages urging families to keep their children inside and avoid clashing with Israeli troops.
Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli forces raiding Aqbat Jabr camp, southwest of the city of Jericho on Feb. 4, 2023, during a search for the Palestinian suspects behind a shooting attack in a nearby settlement last week.
The suspects and family members trickled out of one of the homes and turned themselves in, the military said. Security forces had leveled much of the house, leaving a pile of rubble and twisted metal. Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at military jeeps as they rumbled down the camp streets, while some gunmen opened fire. The Israeli military fired back, wounding six, none critically, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The incursion comes as violence rises in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank under Israel's new far-right government, which has taken a combative stance against the Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.
The Israeli army has ramped up near-nightly raids in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel last spring. Over the last year and a half of escalating raids, Jericho has remained a sort of sleepy desert town, spared much of the violence.
Palestinians clash with Israeli forces raiding Aqbat Jabr camp, southwest of the city of Jericho on Feb. 4, 2023, during a search for the Palestinian suspects behind a shooting attack last week.
Since last week's shooting at the nearby settlement, the Israeli military has blocked access to several roads into Jericho - a closure that has placed the city under a semi-blockade, disrupting business and creating hourslong bottlenecks at checkpoints that affected even Palestinian security forces, footage showed.
The Palestinian Authority, in retaliation for last week's raid into the Jenin refugee camp that killed 10 Palestinians, declared a halt to security coordination with Israel.
Deadliest year since 2004
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B'Tselem. Some 30 people were killed in Israel by Palestinians in 2022.
The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
In the evening Saturday, the Israeli military said air defenses shot down a drone launched from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into the country's south. No Palestinian group said it was behind launching the drone, which set off warning sirens on the Israeli side of the frontier.
The increasing violence in the West Bank has cast a shadow over Gaza-Israel borders in recent days after months of quietness, with several rocket launches and airstrikes.