JENIN REFUGEE CAMP —Israel on Wednesday ended a two-day operation in the Jenin refugee camp that killed 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier, forced thousands from their homes and sparked new tensions between locals and the Palestinian Authority meant to be governing them.
Residents threw rocks at the security headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the city, with many expressing frustration that its security forces had allowed the Israeli forces to operate freely in the camp.
The protesters — less than a day after the deadly Israeli operation — were met with tear gas fired by Palestinian security personnel. Memes on social media ridiculed the PA, saying that if it was not going to fight the Israelis, it could at least hand out ammunition.
“We have to put our trust in God, not in the PA,” said one protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
In the aftermath of the Israeli raid, the Jenin refugee camp — long a haven for militant groups — was in shambles and filled with tension. Masked men in black clothes with insignia of local militias escorted bodies of the dead through the camp, firing their weapons into the air and chanting, “The martyrs are beloved by God.” Participants in one procession shouted for the representatives of the PA to leave.
Israel said the incursion, the largest in two decades and the first in that time to involve airstrikes, resulted in the seizure of hundreds of weapons and hundreds of thousands of dollars in “terror funds.” The operation was necessary, Israel said, because the PA had abandoned the camp to the militants involved in armed attacks against Israel.
The incursion follows a more than year-long Israeli attempt to clamp down on new militant groups, especially in the Jenin camp and the surrounding area, home to many of the 50 Palestinians who have attacked Israelis recently.
“Israel’s broad operation in Jenin is not a one-time event,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as the troops began to withdraw Tuesday night. “We will not allow Jenin to go back to being a city of refuge for terrorism.”
A gunman fires a weapon in the air Wednesday in Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during the funeral of Palestinians killed in an Israeli operation. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)
Itamar Yaar, a former deputy head of Israel’s national security council, said the mission would give the PA a chance to reassert its control. “Based on this military success, Israel could engage with the PA, and the PA could have a very important role,” he said.
But after Wednesday’s clashes, anger against the PA is soaring in Jenin. Many scoffed at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that he would cut all security coordination with Israel in response to the incursion. They pointed to the scars of the two-day operation throughout the camp — churned asphalt and mangled cars, windows and doors smashed in by military bulldozers. Bullet casings and burned tires littered the streets; water and power supplies were cut.
Palestinians try to move a damaged car Wednesday after the Israeli army’s withdrawal from the Jenin camp. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)
On a steep hill, a small crowd gathered by the semi-collapsed wall of al-Ansar Mosque. The Israel Defense Forces said the mosque had been harboring militants and weapons and that after a fierce firefight, soldiers who went in reported finding bombmaking materials, explosive devices and the entrance to a militant tunnel. The tunnel was visible Wednesday amid sandbags and rubble.
An Israeli military spokesman condemned the use of a house of worship as a base of military operations. But if any of the neighbors shared that anger, none said so publicly Wednesday.
“People know that what the fighters are doing serves a purpose that will help eventually,” said Ishmael Hussam, 24, a Jenin camp resident. “We grew up here with violence. We support the resistance.”
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that Israel viewed what it described as the lack of civilian casualties as one of the mission’s successes.
“Just as we acted in Gaza two months ago in a precise operation against Islamic Jihad, so, too, did we act against all of the terror organizations in the Jenin refugee camp, and that is something that we know how to copy and paste everywhere else,” he said. He referred to a May campaign of purportedly “pinpoint” Israeli military airstrikes in the Gaza Strip; 10 civilians were killed in that operation.