JENIN : Three Palestinians were killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank early on Saturday after Israeli soldiers launched an operation to arrest a militant, Palestinian officials said.
Medical and security sources said that two of those killed were militants and the third was a civilian. They said 14 Palestinians were also wounded, with two in critical condition. The Palestinian sources said Israeli soldiers entered the camp in the northern West Bank city to arrest Hamza Abu Alheja, 20, a member of the military wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Fire was exchanged, and “other gunmen gathered around the house” to help Abu Alheja, including Mohammad Abu Zena, 19, an Islamic Jihad militant who was killed along with Abu Alheja, the medical and security sources said. A civilian named as Yazan Jabarin was also killed, the Palestinians said, and announced a day of mourning and a strike.
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner called Abu Alheja “a ticking bomb” who took part in shooting attacks and was in “advanced stages of the preparation of further attacks”.
Lerner told reporters security forces shot Abu Alheja only after he shot and lightly wounded two Israelis while trying to escape from the building in which he had holed up. Meanwhile, “Palestinians began to shoot and throw explosive devices at the troops, and as a result we have two more killed”, Lerner added. While there is security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians were not involved in the Jenin operation, he said.
“They (PA security forces) don’t really operate in the Jenin refugee camp, and that was why we were required to do as such,” Lerner said. Israeli forces had previously tried to arrest Abu Alheja in a December raid that resulted in the death of an Islamic Jihad militant. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday’s incident “saved lives” since it “thwarted a terror attack that had already been planned and was supposed to target Israelis”.
round 15,000 mourners calling for Palestinian unity and vengeance against Israel attended a joint funeral for the three dead men at noon. An AFP correspondent said the bodies of Abu Alheja and Abu Zena were wrapped in flags of their Hamas and Jihad movements, while Jabarin was wrapped in the flag of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an armed offshoot of Fatah. Hamas and Islamic Jihad slammed president Mahmud Abbas’s PA for its security coordination with Israel.
A spokesman for Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called the incident a “crime” that “shamed” the PA. “We call on the (PA) security forces to end security coordination with the Israeli occupation and leave the resistance to act freely,” Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement. Abu Alheja’s father, Jamal Abu Alheja, is a prominent Hamas leader imprisoned by Israel since 2002. An Islamic Jihad statement issued from Gaza said the Jenin killings demonstrated that “resistance continues”.
“The Palestinian people cannot tolerate this - the West Bank is boiling over because of the crimes of the Zionists,” senior Islamic Jihad official Nafez Azzam said. “The United States and Israel want to force the Palestinians and the entire region to surrender, but Gaza and the West Bank resist this,” Azzam said. A spokesman for Abbas condemned the “continuing escalation against the Palestinian people” and blamed Israel. “We call on the US administration to move quickly to prevent a general collapse in the region,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said. On Thursday, he said US-sponsored peace talks with Israel have reached an impasse because of Jewish settlement activity.
The talks are on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year’s end after an April 29 deadline. The violence in Jenin came as Palestinians in Gaza prepared to mark the tenth anniversary of the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, in an Israeli air strike. Saturday’s deaths brought to 9 the number of Palestinians in the West Bank killed by Israeli forces this year, according to an AFP tally.