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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Attack in Tel Aviv wounds 8 as Israel’s deadly raid in West Bank continues


The video shows people fleeing Jenin’s refugee camp as Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas during a raid.

By Isabel Kershner and Aaron Boxerman


Eight people were wounded by a Palestinian in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the Israeli authorities said, raising fears of tit-for-tat violence on the second day of the Israeli military’s large-scale incursion aimed at rooting out Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank city of Jenin.


The Palestinian death toll in the Jenin operation, the biggest that Israel has mounted in the area in many years, rose to 12, according to Palestinian health officials. Four were younger than 18, at least two of whom were claimed by Palestinian militant groups as fighters. At least 120 people were injured, including 20 in serious condition, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.


The military operation in Jenin and the attack in Tel Aviv add to the sense of uncertainty and tension in the region, after the most right-wing government in Israeli history took power six months ago. The coalition government’s leaders promised to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory and to administer a tougher response to violence, while the Palestinian Authority has increasingly lost control of hotbeds of militancy in the occupied West Bank.


The sun rose on Tuesday on deserted alleyways in Jenin’s refugee camp, a usually crowded quarter abutting the West Bank city that is the focus of the military incursion. The military activities sent people fleeing, with as many as 3,000 of the camp’s roughly 17,000 residents seeking shelter in schools and other public buildings, or with families elsewhere.


“We were huddling together in the middle of our house, terrified that a rocket might strike us at any moment,” said Omar Obeid, 60, a resident of the camp who fled the fighting with his children late Monday.


A day after Israel launched the operation, which began with a rare use of airstrikes in the region, about 1,000 troops continued searching the camp on Tuesday after earlier finding and confiscating caches of weapons, explosive devices and other military equipment, according to the Israeli military, which added that its forces had also destroyed laboratories for manufacturing explosives.


Although gunfire and explosions could still occasionally be heard, the situation in the refugee camp was “calmer today than yesterday,” the deputy governor of Jenin, Kamal Abu al-Rub said on Tuesday. Neither electricity nor running water was available in the camp because of the destruction caused by the operation, he added.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday afternoon, during a visit to an army base near Jenin, that the operation was in its final stages. “At this moment we are completing the mission,” he said.


Jenin, long a militant stronghold, has been at the center of escalating tensions and violence in the year leading up to the incursion early Monday, and, as the military continued its operation there, Israeli authorities said that a West Bank Palestinian had attacked Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv. A pregnant woman injured in the attack lost her baby, Israeli television reported.


In security camera footage broadcast on Israeli television, a car can be seen slamming into a curb in a residential area in the northern part of the city. The driver then leaves his car and chases and stabs at passersby, brandishing a heavy object. He was then shot and killed by a civilian, Israeli security officials said. Three people are in serious condition, the police said.


The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, identified the attacker as Abd al-Wahab Khalaila, a 20-year-old Palestinian from Samua, a small town in the southern West Bank. Khalaila had no prior security record, the agency said.


“We’ve assessed that because of our activity in Judea and Samaria, the motivation and potential for attacks would rise,” the Israeli police chief, Yaakov Shabtai, told reporters, using the biblical name for the West Bank. Netanyahu vowed the attack would not deter Israel “in our struggle against terrorism.”


Hamas, the Palestinian militant faction that controls Gaza, claimed Khalaila as a member and praised the attack as a response to “the Zionist occupation’s aggression in Jenin.” But Palestinian groups have been known to claim as members or publicly honor all those killed by Israel, and Hamas stopped short of taking direct responsibility for the assault.


Jenin is a bastion for the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as being home to newer armed militias that have sprung up and do not answer to the established organizations, and the area has been the source of dozens of shooting attacks on Israelis, according to Israeli military data.


Israeli officials said that the latest military incursion was not intended to conquer or hold territory in Jenin, adding that it would continue for as long as it took for the mission to be completed.


Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said on Tuesday that 120 wanted men had been arrested and were being interrogated by the security services.


“There is no point in the camp that we have not reached, including its core,” Hagari wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. He said that each of the military units operating in the camp had been given a number of defined targets to search during the day, adding, “If we encounter friction with terrorists — we will fight them as well.”


Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, called on the international community, including the United States, “to intervene immediately” to “stop the Israeli aggression and force Israel to withdraw immediately from Jenin and its camp,” warning of the displacement of large numbers of residents.


The Palestinian Authority announced that it was ceasing all contact with Israel over the Jenin raid.


The operation began shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday with airstrikes from drones, a new tactic being employed by Israel in the West Bank. The strikes were the most intense use of air power in the occupied territory in about two decades.


Israel said that all those who had been killed so far were combatants; militant groups have claimed five of them as members. The Palestinian authorities have not specified whether those who died were all combatants or included civilians.


Some Palestinian officials said that Israel had threatened and forced camp residents to evacuate their homes.


“Houses have been demolished, broken into, and the people were forced out of their own homes,” the mayor of Jenin, Nidal Obeidi, told the radio station Voice of Palestine on Tuesday. According to reports from the scene aired on the station, the sound of explosions and exchanges of fire had rung around the camp since dawn.


Israeli officials denied that they had carried out any forced evacuations but confirmed that some residents had received text messages from Israeli numbers advising them to leave their homes temporarily. Hagari said that the Israeli forces had allowed and even encouraged women and children to leave.


Analysts and former generals with the Israeli military said that it would be in Israel’s interest to wrap up the operation as soon as possible to avoid escalation in Jenin and to prevent any spillover of tensions into other areas, such as the Hamas-run territory of Gaza, which could result in a broader conflict.

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