| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Israeli troops, backed by helicopter, kill 5 Palestinians in clash

Israeli soldiers, aided by the uncommon deployment of helicopter gunships, murdered five Palestinians, including a teenager, and injured more than 90 others during a West Bank operation, according to military and health officials.

The military claimed eight Israeli soldiers were wounded after coming under fire during an operation to capture two Palestinians accused of carrying out assaults in the flashpoint city of Jenin. At least three of those slain in the conflict were members of the armed Islamic Jihad organization.

With U.S.-sponsored peacemaking stalled for almost a decade, Jenin and other areas of the northern West Bank have been a focus of months of stepped-up sweeps by Israel amid a spate of Palestinian street attacks in its cities.

As troops faced heavy fire and a rain of explosive devices from gunmen in the city, the army was forced to mount an extraction mission to pull out the wounded and a number of its vehicles blocked in the fighting, it said.

“So that’s why you saw also our forces in a very problematic area and we had to bring in a helicopter,” an army spokesman told reporters.

The unusual use of helicopter gunships in the operation underlined the intensity of the fighting in Jenin, where armed militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad have long had a strong presence in the adjoining refugee camp.

Bezalel Smotrich, the head of one of the parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition, said the government should launch a broad offensive operation “to restore deterrence” in Jenin, Nablus and other West Bank areas.

“It’s time for the gloves to come off,” he said.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said Israel’s operations in Jenin were “a dangerous escalation that will drag the region into more bloodshed” and called on the international community to “immediately and urgently intervene”.

Video filmed by a local resident and obtained by Reuters showed an explosion enveloping an armoured troop transport as shots ring out. Other clips showed a military helicopter launching a missile and releasing flares.

Israeli media said use of helicopter gunships was a 20-year first in the West Bank. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when it had last used them there.

A military spokesperson said an Apache helicopter fired on an open area in order to drive back gunmen as casualties were extricated from the troop transport.

“We’re aware Palestinians are hit, quite a big number,” the spokesman said.

An Islamic Jihad official said the use of aircraft “will push our fighters to use tools that will surprise the enemy.”

An official from the Fatah party said fighters from the nearby cities of Nablus and Tulkarem had arrived in Jenin to support the local fighters.

  • Reuters