Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP):
Israel has launched air strikes on Gaza as part of the deadliest army raid on the occupied West Bank in years.
Israel said it had carried out at least two rounds of strikes targeting the Hamas resistance movement.
Israel alleged that the massive attack has been launched in response to rockets fired from Palestine. However, there were no reported injuries and most of the Gaza rockets were intercepted by Israel’s air defence system.
No Palestinian group in Gaza has claimed responsibility for the rockets, but both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had vowed to respond to Thursday’s Israeli raid in the West Bank, which had killed nine people.
Another Palestinian was also killed on Thursday by Israeli fire in the West Bank near Ramallah.
The bloodiest day in the West Bank in years erupted during a raid on the crowded refugee camp in the northern city of Jenin, where gunshots rang through the streets and smoke billowed from burning barricades.
Since its records began in 2005, the United Nations has never logged such a high death toll in a single operation in the West Bank.
The violence prompted the Palestinian Authority to announce it was cutting security coordination with Israel, a move criticised by the United States.
Among those confirmed dead in Jenin was Majeda Obeid, 61, who lived some metres from the house targeted by the Israeli forces.
Her daughter, Kefiyat Obeid, said her mother was shot as she peered out her window at the clashes.
“After she finished her prayers, she stopped for a moment to look and, as she stood up, she was hit in the neck by a bullet and she fell against the wall and then to the floor,” the 26-year-old said, as bloodstains soaked into the rug of their home.
‘State of panic’
The military said the incursion targeted Islamic Jihad fighters who, according to Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, were “planning to conduct a terror attack in Israel”.
Three Palestinians were shot in a firefight, while Israeli forces shot a further two “fleeing the scene”, an army statement said. Israeli forces also shot a sixth suspect inside a building, and other Palestinians were hit after firing on troops, the army claimed.
There were no casualties among the Israeli forces, the military said.
Wisam Bakr, director of the Jenin Government Hospital, said there was a “state of panic” in the paediatric ward, with some children suffering from tear gas inhalation.
The Israeli military said “the activity was not far away from the hospital, and it is possible some tear gas entered through an open window”.
Jenin resident Umm Youssef Al-Sawalmi said homes were hit during the raid. “Windows, doors, walls and even the refrigerator, everything was damaged by the bullets,” she recounted.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi vowed that “the resistance is everywhere and ready and willing for the next confrontation”.
The latest deaths bring the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank so far this year to 30.
Saleh al-Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas, which rules Gaza, vowed that Israel “will pay the price for the Jenin massacre”.
The US has announced that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will push for an “end to the cycle of violence”.
US regional allies Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia all strongly condemned the deadly Israeli incursion.
The mounting toll follows the deadliest year in the Palestinian territory recorded by the UN.
The new Israeli government that was formed after elections last month is dominated by Zionist hardliners who call for unlimited Israeli incursion into the Palestinian territories.
UN peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed and saddened by the continuing cycle of violence in the occupied West Bank”.
Thousands flocked to funerals in Jenin, as the Palestinian presidency announced three days of mourning. It charged that Thursday’s raid was happening “under international silence”.