Two rockets were fired from Gaza early Friday and Israel responded with airstrikes on the territory, further escalating tensions.
The Israeli military said both rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system. It was the first such attack from the militant Hamas-ruled territory since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a far-right government that has pledged a tough line against Palestinian militancy.
The raid in the Jenin refugee camp and the rocket fire increases the risk of a major flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian fighting and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The PA already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, had earlier threatened revenge for the raid. Violent escalations in the West Bank have previously triggered retaliatory rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which in turn has brought Israeli airstrikes down on the isolated and impoverished territory.
The Israeli strikes early Friday targeted training sites for Palestinian militant groups, the military said. Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at a militant base in central Gaza Strip. The drone strikes usually serve as a warning for larger airstrikes by fighter jets.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin. President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people, and the undermining of signed agreements,” referring to commitments from the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
The PA last cut security coordination with Israel in 2020, over Netanyahu’s drive to annex the occupied West Bank, which would make a future Palestinian state all but impossible. But six months later, the PA resumed cooperation, signaling the financial importance of the relationship and the Palestinians’ relief at the election of President Joe Biden.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable.” But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties was a mistake.
“Obviously, we don’t think this is the right step to take at this moment,” she told reporters, saying the Palestinian vow to bring the matter to the UN and the International Criminal Court was problematic.
“We want to see them move back in the other direction,” she said, adding: “They need to engage with each other.”
There have been no serious peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in well over a decade.
Thursday’s gun battle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad said three others belonged to the group. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas’ secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
The Israeli military circulated aerial video it said was taken during the battle, showing what appeared to be Palestinians on rooftops hurling stones and firebombs on Israeli forces below. At least one Palestinian can be seen opening fire from a rooftop.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday’s raid. Israel’s paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
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