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At Least 11 Dead in West Bank Firefight

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At least 11 Palestinians were killed during a shootout between Israeli forces and militants in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight on Wednesday, with violence escalating in the territory despite inter­national efforts to ease tensions.

Among those who died during the daytime Israeli raid in Nablus’s bustling centre included a 72-year-old man and other civilian ­bystanders, said Mahdi Akoub, a local leader. At least another six Palestinians were seriously ­injured during the firefight, and more than 100 wounded in total, many by gunfire, the Palestinian health ministry said.

“They entered an area that was packed, packed with people,” Mr Akoub said.

Israeli forces entered Nablus on Wednesday afternoon in pursuit of three Palestinians that ­Israel’s military said were responsible for previous attacks and were plotting imminent ones.

“After surrounding the building, security forces asked them to turn themselves in,” the Israeli army said, adding that the three were ­involved in a shooting that killed a soldier last year. “They refused and opened fire, so the security forces acted to thwart the terrorist cell.”

Troops fired shoulder-launched missiles at the hide-out when the militants refused to surrender. In footage from the area, smoke can be seen billowing from the scene of the gunfight. All three were killed by Israeli troops during the raid. Officials linked two of the militants to the Lions’ Den, a militia comprising young Palestinians, and one to the Iran-backed terrorist group Islamic Jihad. Hamas, an Australian-designated terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said one of its members was also killed.

Tensions across the occupied West Bank have risen since a series of attacks by Palestinians and Arab Israelis – including several from the Jenin area – left 19 dead inside ­Israel between last March and May. Israel responded by launching Operation Wavebreaker, in which the army stepped up its raids into Palestinian areas to break up suspected militant cells and foil ­imminent attacks.

Israel’s government, the most right-wing in the nation’s history, has vowed to crack down on Palestinian militancy. Most coalition members avowedly oppose an ­independent Palestinian state and say Israel should indefinitely keep some kind of security control of the territory.

The raid in Nablus shattered a brief lull in fatal clashes between ­Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, after five were killed in the southern West Bank city of Jericho earlier this month. Another raid in Jenin last month in which 10 Palestinians were killed was widely seen as the deadliest in years.

Following Wednesday’s raid, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the Biden ­administration recognised Israel’s legitimate security concerns but was also “deeply concerned by the large number of injuries and loss of civilian lives”.

“We are deeply concerned that the impact of today’s raid could set back efforts aimed at restoring calm for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Mr Price said.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said the EU was also ­deeply alarmed by the spiralling violence in the West Bank. “It is of utmost importance that all parties work towards restoring calm and de-escalating tensions to avoid further loss of life,” he said.

At least 59 Palestinians have been killed this year by Israeli ­security forces and civilians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel says the majority were engaged in violence, but at least some were bystanders, including a 16-year-old girl in Jenin. During the same period, at least 11 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians – 10 civilians, including two children, and one police officer.

This year’s fast-rising death toll follows a bloody 2022. At least 146 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the highest toll since 2004.

Israeli, Palestinian and US officials have warned the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan could strain tensions to breaking point. In May 2021, violence in Jerusalem during Ramadan helped to ignite an 11-day battle with Hamas that left 14 dead in Israel and killed more than 250 Palestinians.

“The resistance in Gaza is ­observing the enemy’s escalating crimes against our people in the ­occupied West Bank, and its ­patience is running out,” said a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing. The Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in major Palestinian areas in the West Bank, called the incident a “massacre” and its officials called for the US to pressure Israel to stop its “aggression and destructive measures”.

The Israeli military argues that its raids in the West Bank are necessary to crack down on rising militancy and prevent attacks on Israelis. “Soldiers go in to neutralise terror, to protect Israel’s citizens,” Israeli general Yehuda Fuchs, who oversees the army’s West Bank operations, said on Tuesday. “No one will limit our ability to fight terror.”

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Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Dov Lieber - Aaron Boxerman | 24.2.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000