Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank have always been a hotbed of terrorist activity. But, the Jenin camp has always led the way in the terrorism department.
It was a symbol of Palestinian resistance in the early 2000s during the Second Intifada, and was the scene of a major IDF operation, known as Operation Defensive Shield, to uproot its terror infrastructure exactly 20 years ago.
In later years, the camp lost its symbolic position with many members of its armed gangs joining the Palestinian Authority's security agencies - to the dismay of many militants.
The camp now, however, is virtually off limits to PA forces, who neglected to police it in the years following the end of the Second Intifada.
The vacuum that was left was filled by young, impoverished and unemployed youth, who joined armed gangs, initially to commit crimes, including the smuggling of arms and drug trafficking.
Their growing numbers were bolstered by lucrative arms deals between Israeli and West Bank criminals, made possible through the many gaps in the partition fence. Most of the arms made their way to Jenin from the nearby Israeli Arab city of Umm al Fahm.
At the same time, the Hamas, Fatah's military wing, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups began taking hold of the camp, growing their militant forces, undisturbed by the PA or by Israel.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Israeli forces had reduced their activity in the camp and limited their raids only to those meant to diffuse immediate danger.
As a result, the terror groups have been able to train operatives inside the camp and Israeli forces now encounter armed resistance by well-trained militants, at a level not seen in other refugee camps along the West Bank.
The Jenin camp is also where the different Palestinian factions cooperate closely in their fight against the Israeli forces, despite their differences and adversity elsewhere.
They regard their refugee camp to be a beacon of their resistance to the Israeli occupation and to their animosity toward the PA – which they regard as cooperating with Israel.
The IDF usually enters the camp with the use of undercover units, but the local militants have learned from the terror groups in Gaza how to identify and defend themselves against such operations, under the leadership of a joint command.
Their lookouts are always in position to detect any unusual movements, or unidentified vehicles entering the camp, which may be carrying IDF forces.
Messages are dispatched to other members of terror cells using WhatsApp or Telegram, along with footage of the possible infiltrators. Armed militants are then sent to engage with the suspects to determine their identity.
Jenin's militants are deployed in small groups made up of 20 to 25 fighters, each responsible for a different area in the crowded camp. In case a battle erupts between terrorists and Israeli troops, more forces join the fighting.
Israel has identified Bassam a-Sa'adi from the Islamic Jihad as one of the highly ranked commanders in the camp. He is also seen as the leader of that faction's resistance in the entire West Bank.
The Fatah military wing – the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - is being commanded by Jihad Abu al- Kamal, while the Hamas group - which is the least dominant in Jenin - is being led by Jamal Abu al-Hija, who is currently jailed in Israel but is still understood to be heavily involved in the camp's militant activity.
"Hamas is keeping its head down since the Gaza war in May 2021, and we have taken the lead," a member of the Islamic Jihad told Ynet.
He explained that Hamas was now financing the operations of the Islamic Jihad inside the camp as well as its efforts to launch terror attacks inside the Green Line.
The Islamist terror group now has sufficient funds to pay young Palestinians in the camp to launch attacks against the IDF, regardless of their affiliations to any particular group.
They are reportedly being offered $300 for successfully targeting IDF soldiers, and $100 if their attacks do not result in injuries to the troops.
PA's security forces have made numerous attempts to impose their authority on the camp over the recent months, but have understood their attempts would not succeed.
It now appears that only a major aggressive Israeli military operation would be able to restore order to the refugee camp, but that could run the risk of igniting tensions in other areas, including the Gaza Strip.