Israeli attack on Jericho kills 5 in worsening West Bank unrest – Reuters

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Jericho, West Bank – Israeli security forces killed five Palestinians in an early Monday morning raid in the normally quiet city of Jericho, amid the worst violence in the West Bank in nearly two decades.

The Israeli military said two of those killed were captured on CCTV footage last month as they prepared to attack a Jewish restaurant on the main road outside Jericho with assault-style weapons and had been the target of an intensive manhunt. He described two of the dead as members of Hamas’ military wing.

Hours after the operation, blood remained on the walls of a small shed next to large villas across a highway in Aqbat Jabar refugee camp, a densely populated urban slum that is home to 13,000 people. Young men in the camp burned tires in protest and erected barricades around the camp.

‘Weapons are everywhere’ in Israel and the occupied territories as violence increases

Israel confiscated the bodies of the five men killed, while the IDF reported no Israeli casualties. Soldiers have also erected checkpoints around Jericho, creating hour-long queues as they search vehicles and verify identities.

In recent months, Israel has launched deadly raids on Palestinian towns and villages as part of its Operation Break the Tide, launched in response to a wave of violence targeting Israelis by lone attackers and armed groups emerging Palestinians, largely centered in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus. These groups are usually small, led by young men and are organized locally outside of the main Palestinian political parties.

Rarely do activists come from Jericho, instead of Nablus or Jenin. Jericho is a sleepy farm and tourist town better known for its bananas and archeology than its armed groups. It is a largely unpopular Palestinian Authority stronghold and the home of Saeb Erekat, a former Palestinian peace negotiator who died in 2020.

Residents of Aqbat Jabar condemned Israel’s operations as collective punishment and said the violence would not end until the occupation of Palestinian land ended.

“The occupation is the problem,” said Jamal Omar, chairman of the committee in charge of the administration of the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp. “All Palestinians are now afraid for their children.”

The spread of violence, analysts have warned, is the product of an explosive combination of a deep political vacuum among Palestinians and the return of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Israel’s most right-wing government to date. . Members of Netanyahu’s coalition include militant settlers and Jewish nationalists calling for annexation of the West Bank and tougher policies against the Palestinians.

Ayman Daraghmeh, a former Hamas parliamentary member, said the group in Jericho was “close” to but not organized or led by the extremist group.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said more violence would follow in response. “Our people and their resistance will soon respond to this crime,” he said.

The IDF released a photograph showing the weapons confiscated in the raid: five assault rifles, a handgun, a homemade weapon and ammunition. The widespread presence of illegal weapons has contributed to the lethality of the current wave of violence.

Young Palestinians arm themselves for a new era of violent resistance

During the January attack on the restaurant in which the IDF said two of the men killed were involved, the militants fired only one shot before at least one of the guns appeared to jam.

No one was hurt, but Israeli officials warned that many could have been injured or killed in the January 28 assault, a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem. An Israeli raid in Jenin on January 26 targeting a militant cell killed 10 Palestinians, including a woman in her 60s.

Jericho is in a part of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, set up in the Oslo peace accords of 1993 as a step towards a Palestinian state. But two decades later, the other side has little faith in a two-state solution, as Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, have spread across the West Bank.

“Jericho has always been safe. We heard about these things happening elsewhere, but we never imagined it here,” said Mais Awadat, 28, sitting in the bullet-riddled house of her relatives. “Now it’s worse than the second Intifada,” she said, referring to the period of intense clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the early 2000s.

Even before Monday’s raid, the Awadat family was the target of another Saturday morning raid on their home and neighbors.

During the operation, Adel Awadat, 61, said two shoulder-launched missiles hit his house around 7 a.m. without prior warning as he and four other family members, including his 16-year-old nephew years, were inside. An Israeli soldier then called and told the family to get out as a bulldozer barricaded the main exit.

Soldiers made male members of Awadat’s extended family, who live in nearby houses, strip and stand in the cold and rain, he said, while women and children were placed in nearby jeeps.

Some 12 male members of the Awadat family were arrested that night and six remain in jail, said Hasan Awadat, 27.

Nearby, Qassam, 19, an aluminum worker who declined to give his surname, was heading to one of the funerals of the five dead. He agreed that Jericho had not previously been known for its militancy, but feared that would change.

“We have a friend who is now so angry. He keeps talking about getting a gun and shooting. We try to calm him down. But it’s not easy. I feel like the whole atmosphere is changing,” he said.

Hazem Balousha from Gaza City contributed to this report.

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