Palestinian attacker wounds eight in Tel Aviv as Netanyahu signals West Bank operation could soon end

Israel struck the camp early Monday in an operation it said was aimed at destroying and confiscating weapons. Palestinian health officials said 11 people have been killed and dozens wounded

Tel Aviv, Israel
Israeli paramedics evacuate an injured man at the site of a Palestinian car-ramming attack at a bus stop in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 4, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse (APN)

A Hamas militant rammed his car into a crowded Tel Aviv bus stop on Tuesday and began stabbing people, wounding eight in an attack that Palestinian armed groups said was revenge for an Israeli military offensive in the occupied West Bank. A bystander shot and killed the attacker.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated the operation in the Jenin refugee camp, one of the most intense in the territory in nearly two decades, was winding down. But he gave no details on when it would end and vowed to carry out similar operations in the future.

“At these moments we are completing the mission, and I can say that our extensive operation in Jenin is not a one-off,” during a visit to a military post on the outskirts of Jenin. “We will continue as long as necessary to cut out terrorism.”

Israel struck the camp, known as a bastion of Palestinian militants, early Monday in an operation it said was aimed at destroying and confiscating weapons. Palestinian health officials said 11 people have been killed and dozens wounded.

Massive military bulldozers have torn through alleyways, leaving heavy damage to roads and buildings in their wake, and thousands of residents fled the camp. Residents said electricity and water were knocked out.

The Israeli military said Tuesday afternoon that fewer than 10 targets remained in the camp and that it hoped to complete the operation within 24 hours.

The large-scale raid comes amid a more than yearlong spike in violence that has created a challenge for Netanyahu’s far-right government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have called for tougher action against Palestinian militants only to see the fighting worsen.

Over 140 Palestinians have been killed this year in the West Bank, and Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis have killed at least 25 people, including a shooting last month that killed four settlers.

With airstrikes and a large presence of ground troops, the raid bore hallmarks of Israeli military tactics during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.

But the current violence is also different from the intense years of what was known as the second intifada, a period that claimed thousands of lives. It’s more limited in scope, with Israeli military operations focused on several strongholds of Palestinian militants.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a hard-line settler leader, rushed to the scene of Tuesday’s attack in Tel Aviv.

“We knew that terror would raise its head,” he said. He praised the person who killed the attacker and called for arming more citizens with guns, as he was heckled by an angry onlooker.

The attacker was identified as a 20-year-old Palestinian man from the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The Islamic militant group Hamas praised him as a “martyr fighter” and called the ramming “heroic and revenge for the military operation in Jenin.” Islamic Jihad, a militant group with a large presence in Jenin, also praised the assault.

It was not immediately clear if the man was dispatched by Hamas or acted on his own.

In Jenin, rubble littered the streets, and columns of black smoke periodically rose above the skyline over the camp, which along with an adjacent town of the same name has been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence for years.

Jenin Mayor Nidal Al-Obeidi said that around 4,000 Palestinians, nearly one third of the camp, had fled to stay with relatives or in shelters.

Kefah Ja’ayyasah, a camp resident, said that soldiers forcibly entered her home and locked the family inside.

“They took the young men of my family to the upper floor, and they left the women and children trapped in the apartment at the first floor,” she said.

She claimed that soldiers would not let her bring food to the children, and blocked an ambulance crew from entering the home when she yelled for help.

“I told them that one of my relatives was sick and needed medicine before she lost consciousness,” Ja’ayyasah said. She said the soldiers eventually allowed the family to leave. The Red Cross brought the family to a hospital, and from there they went to the home of a relative.

Across the West Bank, Palestinians observed a general strike to protest the Israeli raid.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Tuesday that the two-day death toll rose to 11. The Israeli military has claimed at least 10 were militants, but did not provide details. It had no immediate information on the latest death, a 17-year-old boy who died from wounds sustained in earlier fighting.

During Tuesday’s operations, the military said it seized weapons and explosives and demolished tunnels beneath a mosque in the refugee camp. Israeli media reported that the army had arrested at least 120 suspected Palestinian militants since Monday.

Israel says that militants use civilian structures to conceal their activities. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military’s chief spokesman, told reporters Monday that Israel used the massive military bulldozers because the roads of the camp were booby-trapped with explosives.

Palestinians say the violence is the natural outcome of 56 years of Israeli military occupation.

The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank and three Arab countries with normalized ties with Israel – Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – have condemned Israel’s incursion, as did the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

At a news conference in Ankara with his Jordanian counterpart, Turkey’s new foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, called on Israeli authorities “to exercise common sense” and refrain from attacks.

In Berlin, Germany’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Tel Aviv attack, but also expressed concern about the situation in the West Bank. It called on Israel to ensure the safety of civilians and maintain access for humanitarian aid.

Israel has been carrying out near daily raids in the West Bank in response to a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in early 2022. It says the raids are meant to crack down on Palestinians militants and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say such violence is inevitable in the absence of any political process with Israel and increased West Bank settlement construction and violence by extremist settlers.

Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people uninvolved in confrontations have also died.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.

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