The IDF’s extensive counterterrorism operation in the northern West Bank city of Jenin is “proceeding as planned” and the time-limited offensive will continue as required, unaffected by international pressure, a senior government official told Ynet on Monday.
"The operation is proceeding as planned, with responsible and deliberate progress. There is no international pressure to stop, and in any case, it is a time-limited operation," the official said.
After consultation with IDF commanders, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said mid-day that troops have complete backing to do whatever is needed to defend Israelis. "We've dealt a massive blow on terror organizations in Jenin in the past hours, and have achieved impressive successes," Gallant said
Meanwhile, defense officials are closely monitoring other parts of the West Bank for attempts to carry out attacks on Israeli troops and civilians, as well as heightened tensions and clashes in various flashpoints.
The army reported that Israeli forces were engaged in heavy gun battles with armed terrorists firing from residential buildings and mosques. Fighter jets were reportedly scrambled to neutralize targets.
Large IDF forces poured into the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank early Monday as part of what the army dubbed a "wide-scale effort" to clean out what has turned into a hotbed of terrorist activity which produced numerous attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians.
The operation commenced with aerial strikes followed by the entry of ground troops into the city. The military emphasized it was focusing on targeting terrorists rather than civilians, stating its objective to eliminate Jenin as a safe haven for those involved in terrorist activities.
The army reported that dozens of terror suspects have been arrested so far in the offensive and large quantities of weapons were seized.
Mourad Malaishe and Muhammed Barhama, senior members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, were reportedly arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the city of Tubas near Nablus while en route to join the fighting in Jenin.
According to the IDF and Shin Bet, Air Force fighter jets have carried out over 10 strikes targeting terrorist infrastructure and armed suspects in the refugee camp. Additionally, the forces destroyed a laboratory involved in the production and storage of explosives. Furthermore, the troops found and confiscated an improvised rocket launch pad and other armaments.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, eight people have been killed so far during the operation and dozens wounded, some of them in critical condition. Another Palestinian was killed in clashes with IDF forces in the West Bank city of al-Bireh north of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the IDF reported that one soldier sustained light to moderate injuries caused by shrapnel from a grenade in the early morning hours and has since recovered and returned to action. Sergeant Major O. of the elite Duvdevan undercover commando unit insisted on rejoining his comrades in arms in Jenin after receiving medical treatment.
Armored bulldozers were deployed to clear the city roads and identify and avoid improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In a separate raid earlier this month, an IDF armored vehicle was immobilized after encountering a powerful explosive charge planted on a road in Jenin. The incident prompted an extensive rescue operation to extract the immobilized vehicle, during which Israeli security forces faced intense gunfire for hours.
The operation had been in the planning for the past year and was delayed twice while the decision was finally made to strike after the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. The military stated it had no intention to occupy the city but rather restore Israel's deterrence in the northern West Bank, with an emphasis on Jenin.
Hundreds of special forces soldiers as well as aircraft and heavy engineering equipment were deployed for the task. Palestinian security forces were told to leave the city as the operation went underway.
In a joint statement, the IDF and Shin Bet said they attacked a command center located near two UNRWA schools and a health clinic in the Jenin refugee camp that was used by a local terror faction to survey the activity of troops and had served armed militants before and after launching attacks.
Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Avnei Hefetz settlement in the northern West Bank while troops were operating in Jenin. No injuries were reported and a search for the militants was underway, the IDF said.
Israel was bracing for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in response but said the security forces believe the Gaza factions will stay out of the fight if the scope of the operation in Jenin remains limited, as planned.
The joint command of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip said that their response to Israel's counterterrorism operation in Jenin will be determined by the military's conduct. "Our warriors on all fronts are prepared for an immediate response if the occupation continues its crimes," the factions said.
A security source told Ynet that "we have conveyed messages to Gaza, both to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that it would be wise for them to remain on the sidelines, as this is a highly volatile situation and we are prepared for any developments."
Al Jazeera later reported, citing a "Palestinian Resistance" source from Gaza, that both factions have conveyed a message to Egyptian mediators that they would join the fighting if the operation doesn’t come to a close soon.
Sirens from local mosques in Jenin blared as the operation began and residents blocked roads in the area using burning tires. Palestinian militant factions said they were resisting the raid with gunfire and causing injuries to the Israeli troops, they called on Palestinians to confront the forces calling for a "large flame to engulf the West Bank and Gaza."
IDF UAVs targeted the Jenin area - the first time such measures were used there during daylight hours. According to press reports, the power to the western neighborhoods in Jenin was cut as troops took control of the home of Zakaria Zubeidi, a prominent local militant currently serving a prison term in Israel.
The IDF deployed troops to secure major West Bank transportation routes in anticipation of riots and terror attacks amid its special operation in Jenin. Gallant said earlier that Israel will take firm action in its offensive against anyone who tries to harm Israelis. "We are watching our enemies closely and are prepared for any eventuality," the minister said on Twitter.
President Isaac Herzog also stepped out to voice support for the troops. "I stand with the IDF and the security forces, and I pray for their well-being. The State of Israel will continue to fight terrorism with a firm and uncompromising hand!"
The Civil Aviation Authority said that it had closed the airspace in northern Israel's eastern sector while the IDF was operating in Jenin to root out terrorist cells there.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Mike Herzog said that Jenin and its refugee camp have become a base for Iran and a hub for terrorism. "No nation would sit idly by as terrorists strike its citizens," he said.
A spokesperson for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday condemned the IDF counterterrorism offensive in Jenin, dubbing it a "new war crime" against defenseless people.
"Palestinians will not kneel, surrender or raise a white flag and will remain steadfast on their soil in the face of the brutal attacks until the occupiers are defeated," Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.
Israel's neighboring countries, Jordan and Egypt, which have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state after decades of bloody conflict, have both criticized Israel's actions in the Palestinian city, condemning them as a violation of international law.
First published: 06:23, 07.03.23