Tense but calm after deadly Jenin raid triggers Israel-Gaza rocket fire exchange
Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories remained tense but calm after an exchange of rocket fire between the Gaza Strip and Israel triggered by a deadly raid in the West Bank.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) entered the Jenin refugee camp, in the north of the occupied territory at about 7am (5am GMT) on Thursday acting on intelligence suggesting a cell linked to Palestinian Islamic Jihad was planning to carry out imminent attacks, the army said in a statement.
Two civilians and seven men claimed by Palestinian militant groups were killed in the fierce gun battle that ensued. Several of the camp’s residents said the violence was the worst they had witnessed since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the 2000s. The death toll from the raid is the highest in a single Israeli operation recorded by the United Nations since records began in 2005.
Related: Israeli forces kill nine Palestinians during West Bank raid
The events on Thursday in Jenin led the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, to announce it was suspending security cooperation with Israel, and sparked confrontations elsewhere: two more Palestinians were shot and killed by soldiers in protests that turned violent at checkpoints near Ramallah and in East Jerusalem.
Overnight on Friday, six rockets were fired from the Islamist-controlled Gaza Strip towards southern Israel, four of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system. The IDF responded by conducting bombing raids on what it said were two military sites in central Gaza. Both the Gaza and Israeli fire appeared limited in scope, and no injuries were reported on either side.
The leader of Islamic Jihad, a smaller and more belligerent group than the strip’s rulers, Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack from Gaza during a rally in Gaza City on Friday that attracted thousands of people.
Efforts by international mediators to defuse tensions appeared to have succeeded, with no immediate sign of escalation into war of the kind seen between Israel and the Gaza Strip multiple times since Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007.
The holy al-Aqsa mosque compound on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, often a touchpaper for violence, remained calm during Friday prayers, which were accompanied by a heavy Israeli police presence.
Worries that the intractable conflict could once again spiral out of control have not dissipated, however. Thursday’s events come against the backdrop of a nine-month-old Israeli military campaign targeting Palestinian factions in Jenin and nearby Nablus, launched in response to a deadly wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks last spring.
In 2022, about 250 Palestinians in the West Bank and 30 Israelis were killed, making last year the bloodiest since 2004. A surprise three-day Israeli bombing campaign against Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in August killed another 49 people, according to Gaza’s health ministry. So far this month, 31 Palestinians have been killed.
Newly released polling suggests that support for the dormant peace process has reached an all-time low on both sides, and it is widely feared that the recent election of the most rightwing government in Israeli history will stoke tensions further.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is due to arrive for talks in Egypt, Israel and the West Bank next week. In a statement issued on Thursday, the state department said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and urged both sides to de-escalate.
The UN, Egypt and Qatar have also urged calm, Palestinian officials said, while the UN security council is expected to meet behind closed doors on Friday to discuss the deteriorating security situation.