Israel’s ongoing raids in the northern West Bank could lead to a much broader conflict that would embroil Islamist factions in the Gaza Strip, security experts warn.
Israeli forces on Sunday conducted fresh raids in the district of Jenin, home to the terrorists that recently carried out two deadly attacks in Israel.
Several Palestinians suspected of being involved in terrorist activities were arrested during the raids. The Israel Defense Forces also reported finding weapons and an explosive device in the homes it searched that it said were going to be used in a future attack.
Among the places targeted was the town of Ya'bad, home of Palestinian terrorist Diaa Hamarsheh, who shot and killed five people in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on March 28. Another military operation took place in Jenin, home to Ra'ad Hazem, a gunman who went on a shooting rampage in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, killing three Israelis and wounding several others.
Palestinians reported that one person was killed and several others wounded in clashes with the Israeli forces in Jenin.
Later on Sunday, Border Police officers shot and killed a Palestinian woman after she allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack near the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.
A Border Police officer was stabbed in the attack. On Sunday morning, a Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli troops at a temporary checkpoint set up in the West Bank town of Husan, located near Bethlehem, after she approached the Israeli soldiers in what the Israel Defense Forces have called a “suspicious manner.” The soldiers called for Ghada Ibrahim Ali Sabateen, 47, from Bethlehem, a widowed mother of six, to stop and fired warning shots in the air before shooting her in her lower body, according to the IDF.
No weapons were found on the woman’s body, the military acknowledged. The incident is being investigated, according to the IDF.
Defense experts believe that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has effectively lost control of several areas of the northern West Bank, and that Israel needs to clamp down on terror groups in the area before the violence gets worse.
“Israel needs to dramatically undermine the terror capacities and infrastructure of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Jenin,” Dr. Kobi Michael, former deputy director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said. “But we have to be prepared for a PIJ retaliation from the Gaza Strip as well.”
Michael, who is also the editor of the INSS’s “Strategic Assessment” journal, added that the longer Israel carries out raids against the PIJ and the greater their losses, the greater the chance of escalation across the West Bank and Gaza.
“We have to maneuver in a very clever manner: differentiate between the majority of the population in the West Bank and the terror groups, but we shouldn’t be afraid of escalation because if we don’t deal with terror greenhouses in an efficient manner in the Jenin district, we will find such greenhouses all over the West Bank,” he said.
Amid the ongoing raids, dozens of Palestinian rioters vandalized the Jewish holy site on Saturday night, damaging the gravestone, water tank, electrical closet and chandelier in the process.
Joseph’s Tomb is a funerary monument located in the city of Nablus in Area A of the West Bank, which falls under full Palestinian control. The site is near the biblical city of Shechem and has long been identified as the legendary resting place of the patriarch Joseph, although there is no archaeological evidence to confirm this.
Footage shared on social media showed Palestinians entering the holy site and destroying objects inside. The gravestone was smashed and the rooms in the compound appear to have been set on fire, according to pictures taken at the scene. The tomb is venerated by Jews, Samaritans, Christians, and Muslims, and has become a frequent flashpoint for violence.
The vandals were apprehended by Palestinian security forces shortly after the destruction was perpetrated, an IDF spokesperson told Army Radio.
“We are dealing with barbaric, radical, violent people very similar to ISIS that cannot tolerate any other religions or minorities besides Islam,” Michael said of the incident, noting that it underscored how much the PA has lost control over northern parts of the West Bank.
“They do not dare to enter the Palestinian refugee camps or to take on the armed militias,” he said. “These militias are challenging the PA; they do not accept the PA’s legitimacy or security cooperation with Israel and support armed resistance against Israel.”
For these reasons, he believes Israeli forces have to step in and temporarily take control of areas that have been overrun by jihadist elements. Doing so not only serves to prevent further terror attacks inside Israel but also to ensure the future survival of the PA.
Echoing Michael’s statements regarding the flourishing of radical elements in the area, Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council, also known as the Samaria Regional Council, referred to the Palestinian Authority as being akin to the Islamic State group and called on the IDF and Israel to take control of Joseph’s Tomb immediately.
In a statement, Yossi Dagan called the destruction “shocking.”
“This happened only because the state of Israel has abandoned one of the Jewish people’s holy places [and placed it] ‘under the care’ of the criminal Palestinian Authority,” Dagan said in the statement.
Dagan has been organizing Jewish visits to the tomb under the auspices of the IDF. Pilgrims are escorted by Israeli soldiers during such visits, which are often met with hostility and rioting by local Palestinians.
“We demand the immediate return of the IDF to Joseph’s Tomb,” the statement read.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meanwhile called the incident a “frenzy of destruction” and said that he was shocked by the pictures of the scorched holy site.
“We will not tolerate such an attack on a place that is holy for us, on the eve of Passover, and will reach the rioters,” he said. “Of course, we will see to the rebuilding of what has been destroyed, just as we always do.”
The story is written by Maya Margit and reprinted with permission from The Media Line