Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Saturday, March 22, 2014
JERUSALEM — Israeli forces killed three Palestinians and wounded at least seven others early Saturday when their attempt to arrest a person suspected of being a militant in the restive Jenin refugee camp erupted into a violent clash.
Outraged Palestinian leaders said the episode raised to 60 the number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of American-led peace talks last summer. They warned that what they described as a purposeful Israeli escalation in recent days threatened to scuttle the negotiations and spawn an explosion in the West Bank.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the Israeli raid and called on the Obama administration “to move quickly to prevent the collapse of everything.”
The fragile negotiations are at a crucial moment. Washington is pressing for an extension of the talks’ nine-month timetable, but a disagreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the terms for a release of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for this week could cause a breakdown.
On Saturday, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israel Defense Forces told reporters that troops went to Jenin before dawn to arrest Hamza Abu El-Hijja, 22, whom he described as a “ticking time bomb” involved in past shootings of Israelis and “in the advanced stages of planning further attacks.” Colonel Lerner said Mr. Abu El-Hijja fired at the troops from inside a house in the refugee camp where he was holed up, and shot an Israeli attack dog.
Mr. Abu El-Hijja, the son of a prominent leader of the militant IslamicHamas Party who is an inmate in an Israeli prison, was killed as he tried to escape, and two members of the Israeli special forces team were wounded in a shootout, Colonel Lerner said.
The other two Palestinians who were killed were identified as Omar Abu Zaina, 27, a member of Islamic Jihad, and Zain Jabarin, 23, of the armed wing of Fatah, Mr. Abbas’s faction. Palestinian news media reported that they were unarmed, though Colonel Lerner said they had “weapons or explosive devices” and were “part of a contingency plan” to corner the Israeli troops.
Azmi Ballas, 67, the owner of the house where Mr. Abu El-Hijja had taken refuge, said he and a dozen family members awoke around 2 a.m. to the sounds of “bullets, shells and grenades.” They spent two hours huddled in their house until Israeli soldiers ordered them to leave, Mr. Ballas said, adding that one of his sons was shot in a shoulder and another was hit on the head with a rifle during the raid.
It was the most severe clash between Israel and Palestinians in months and highlighted both the growing tension between the two sides in the West Bank and the deep divisions within Palestinian politics.
Hamas issued a statement blaming not just Israel but also the Palestinian Authority, calling on it “to stop the comedy of the so-called security coordination with the Israeli occupation.” At the men’s funerals in Jenin on Saturday, according to Reuters, thousands of mourners crowded around the coffins draped with flags from their armed groups, protesting the talks with Israel with chants like “Where are you, Abbas? They killed us while you watched.”
Leaders of Fatah condemned Israel for not coordinating the raid with the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, because Jenin is supposedly under full Palestinian control. But Colonel Lerner and other Israeli officers said the Palestinians did not generally operate in refugee camps.
There is good coordination with the Palestinian security, but we understand that they don’t work for us,” a senior Israeli military official who works in the West Bank said in an interview last week, speaking on the condition of anonymity under army protocol. “We cannot order them what to do. They cannot be everywhere even if they wanted to — they don’t have the capability. And there are places where they don’t go.”
The Jenin camp, with about 16,000 residents, was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the second intifada, or uprising, with more than 50 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers killed over 10 days in April 2002. Mr. Abu El-Hijja’s father, Jamal, was arrested during the 2002 incursion, Palestinian officials said, and is serving nine life sentences for his role as a Hamas leader there.
Two Israeli arrest raids into the camp in August and September left three Palestinians dead. The camp is considered a Fatah stronghold, with a Hamas presence that Mr. Abu El-Hijja may have been trying to strengthen.
Colonel Lerner said Mr. Abu El-Hijja had been on Israel’s “wanted” list for months. Safa, a Gaza-based Palestinian news agency, reported Saturday that Israeli troops had tried to arrest Mr. Abu El-Hijja in December, but that he had escaped after a clash. Another Palestinian was killed in the standoff.
Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s defense minister, praised the forces that conducted the Jenin raid for their “determination and professionalism in a complex battlefield,” saying the operation “actually saved lives” by thwarting an attack.