Israeli troops killed a youth at a hospital and read out Jewish prayers at a mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin during raids that Palestinian authorities said on Thursday killed 12 and that Israel said helped capture dozens of militants.
The Palestinian government criticised the operation inside Jenin as a “dangerous escalation” and in a statement said the desecration of the mosque by some Israeli troops fanned religious tension. Israel’s army said it would discipline the soldiers.
Palestinians see the West Bank as central to a future independent state. Allies of Israel backing its war against Hamas militants in Israeli-occupied Gaza have urged restraint, including punishing Israeli settlers in the West Bank accused of armed attacks on Palestinians.
In recent years Israel has greatly expanded settlements in the West Bank, leaving less territory for a viable Palestinian state.
Deadly bloodshed had been worsening in the West Bank even before the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel from Gaza that killed 1,200 Israelis and led to an Israeli offensive that has killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians in Gaza. In the two months since, Israelis have killed at least 287 West Bank Palestinians.
The Israeli military, which says it has been stepping up operations against Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank, confirmed killing “more than 10” people it called terrorists in the Jenin raids.
In a statement, the military said Israeli aircraft killed several of the people after they attacked security forces. It said on Thursday evening that the operation had concluded.
Witnesses in Jenin described gunmen exchanging fire with the soldiers and detonating homemade explosive devices. Army bulldozers damaged streets and water pipes, residents said.
A military statement said soldiers dismantled bomb laboratories and underground tunnel shafts searches in a counter-terrorism operation that began on Dec. 12 in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militants.
Controlled explosions and gunfire from Israel’s own forces slightly injured four soldiers, the statement said.
Images circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed soldiers inside the mosque in Jenin using a microphone to read a Jewish prayer in the style of an Islamic call to prayer.
The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned what it said was a mockery of the religious sanctum. Asked about the events, the Israeli army told reporters the soldiers were immediately removed from operational activity.
“The behaviour of the soldiers in the videos is serious and stands in complete opposition to the values of the IDF. The soldiers will be disciplined accordingly,” the military said.
Soldiers operating inside the Khalil Suleiman hospital compound just outside Jenin’s built-up refugee camp killed an unarmed teenager there, according to medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Soldiers shot the 17-year-old in the chest, the Palestinian health ministry said.
During the raid Israel blocked ambulances from entering the camp to transport seriously ill patients, Mahmoud Al-Saadi, director of the Palestinian Red Crescent in the northern West Bank city, told Reuters.
“The army did not allow us to enter,” despite attempts to coordinate with the International Red Cross and the U.N. Palestinian relief agency, he said, adding soldiers were also stationed outside the hospital.
The military did not respond to a request for comment about the shooting reports of soldiers stopping ambulances reaching the sick.
Alaa Al Sadi, who lives in the Jenin camp, said soldiers who came to his home searching for guns smashed his television before taking him blindfolded into detention at an army compound outside the city for about 14 hours, along with hundreds of other people.
The soldiers found no guns but demolished his family home and accused him of being a member of Hamas, telling him he should leave the West Bank and move to Lebanon or Syria, Al Sadi, 44, said in an interview. He denied any links to the Gaza-based Islamist militant group.
The Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment about Alaa Al Sadi’s account.
The majority of the people taken into detention earlier in the raid have since been released, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, an advocacy group, said in a statement. The Israeli army said 60 wanted suspects were transferred to security forces for further questioning.
Most countries deem Jewish settlements built on land Israel occupied in a 1967 Middle East war as illegal, and their continued expansion has for decades been among the most contentious issues between Israel, the Palestinians and the international community.