Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces early Saturday morning in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, during an IDF raid aimed at capturing a Hamas militant.
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According to the Israeli Army, seven more Palestinians were wounded and three were arrested. Palestinian sources said some 15 people were injured by IDF bullets, one in critical condition. Two Border Police officers were lightly wounded.
The raid was a joint operation by the Shin Bet, the Police Special Anti-Terror Unit and the Israeli army, who entered Jenin to arrest Hamza Abu al-Haija, 22, said by the Shin Bet to have been involved in shootings against Israelis, placing IEDs targeting army forces, and in other attacks sponsored by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip.
Hamza, said by the Shin Bet to have been a member of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, is the son of Gamal Abu al-Haija, considered to be a high-ranking Hamas member in the West Bank, currently serving a life sentence in Israel.
According to the army, Abu al-Haija barricaded himself in his home, then tried to flee the Israeli forces and opened fire toward them, wounding two officers. Special police forces returned fire, killing him and two others - Mahmoud Abu Zeina, 17, a member of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, and Yazan Jabarin, 23, a member of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
After the raid clashes developed between Palestinians and the Israeli forces, in which they were attacked with live fire, explosive charges, firebombs, and stones, the Israeli army said.
According to residents of the refugee camp, Abu al-Haija was shot in the legs when he jumped out of the window of the besieged house. The soldiers then approached him, fired at him at point blank range and killed him. Residents also said the two other young men killed – Mahmoud Abu Zina and Yazan Jabarin – were shot as they carried the body of their friend some distance from the place where he was killed.
Speaking by phone, a camp resident told Haaretz that Abu Zeina and Jabarin were unarmed. He said the forces began firing at the house, and after about 30 minutes’ exchanges of fire, the family members – one of whom had been shot in the shoulder – came out of the house, along with another wanted man who had previously been under arrest for a few months in a Palestinian Authority jail.
The injured man and the wanted man, who are both members of the Palestinian security forces, were arrested. After the family left the house, the army fired an anti-tank missile at the house and sent dogs into the ruins. Abu al-Haija killed one of the dogs and apparently when he ran out of ammunition he jumped out of a second story window.
According to the camp resident, the soldiers used tear gas and live fire to keep back young men throwing stones at them.
After the soldiers had left the scene, another young man took Abu al-Haija’s body from the top of the hill, on which the camp is built, to his family’s home, located in the lower part of the camp. The witness said Abu Zeina and Jabarin joined in on the way and helped carry the body. When they were about 150 meters from Abu al-Hija’s home, one or more Israeli sharpshooters shot and killed the two. About 15 camp residents were injured by IDF bullets – the family member who was arrested, his sister and 13 other residents slightly injured as the army broke up a protest. A camp resident said he thought the soldiers left at about 6 A.M.
'Incident of unusual magnitude'
The Judea and Samaria Division is preparing for possible escalation in the area following the raid and the funerals for the three killed.
A high-ranking Israeli army officer said the incident was a full-scale shoot-out, and not a regular confrontation. "Even relative to the Jenin refugee camp and relative to other camps this was an incident of unusual magnitude," the officer said.
According to him, the security establishment received intelligence that al-Haija planned to execute an attack in the next few days. The Shin Bet has been following his movements for several weeks, and found out he plans a shooting, either against settlers or Israeli soldiers.
According to the officer, during the breaking into Abu al-Haija's house a burst was fired at the force, which initiated a "pressure cooker" procedure – increasing aggression to force the wanted person out of the house. At first the force called on Abu al-Haija to leave and fired at the doors. Then family members left the building and the soldiers checked that al-Haija is the only person inside. Then a Lao rocket was fired at the house. The army said that "security forces took several measures to make the wanted person leave the house."
The officer said that there was a constant exchange of fire between the forces and al-Haija, who barricaded himself with an M-16. At the same time, other gunmen arrived at the scene. "We let a dog in the house, which was shot by the terrorist, who at some stage went out shooting, and lightly wounded two soldiers," the officer said. "The force returned fire – and killed him."
The commander of the Police Special Anti-Terror Unit said that the cell "had been planning an imminent attack within the boundaries of the State of Israel." He highlighted that during the arrest attempt, "the wanted man opened fire on the troops, with innocent residents of the house still inside." He added: "The force, at risk to themselves, extracted the residents from the house, and during the extraction two of the fighters were injured. After the extraction, the forces struck and killed the wanted man.”
Police spokesman’s office released film of the operation by means of a camera mounted on the helmet of one of the fighters. The video shows exchanges of fire between the Israeli forces.
About two weeks ago al-Haija interviewed for the al-Rasala website, affiliated with Hamas, and said he has been taken for questioning many times, and that he is a victim of the security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian security services.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the raid was meant to foil an attack planned against Israeli targets, and added that he "congratulates the forces for their determined and professional activities in a complicated arena, and wishes quick recuperation to the two wounded."
Hamas: PA security coordination with Israel led to al-Hija's killing
All Palestinian factions, including Hamas' rival Fatah, released statements condemning the incident. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office severely condemned the incident, saying it marks continued escalation by Israel. The statement also said the Palestinians will call on the United States to intervene immediately "before everything is ruined."
Hamas sources said on Saturday that Palestinian and Israeli security searched al-Haija's house on a regular basis, due to his father's high position in Hamas. However, they said that al-Haija was not arrested for any substantial period of time, and has lately been ignoring summons for questioning.
Sources in Hamas have also accused the Palestinian Authority security forces of coordination with Israel that led to the killing of Abu al-Hija. A website associated with the militant group posted a recent interview with Abu al-Hija in which he told of his last arrest at Israel's Jalameh (Kishon) jail.
He said the interrogation he underwent there was identical to his interrogation by PA security forces. His family said that despite the intensive interrogation by both Israel and the PA, no evidence was found against him and therefore it was decided to kill him. Anger over the incident was also seen in clashes in the Ayda refugee camp near Bethlehem, as well as in Jerusalem.
Hamas will be holding a major rally On Sunday in Gaza for the “martyrs of the movement,” particularly its founder, Ahmed Yassin, and senior leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Islamic Jihad in Gaza announced that it would take part in the rally, which it said would be a kind of show of force by the group. Hamas is using the event to goad Abbas and called on him to stop security coordination with Israel.
Jenin authorities announced a day of mourning and a city-wide strike. Jenin residents staged protests ahead of the funerals for the four killed, and called on Abbas to cut off the peace negotiations with Israel.
The security establishment noted that in the last months army forces that enter refugee camps in the West Bank for raids or other operations were met with increasing opposition by resident Palestinians. In most of the army's latest operations in the camps clashes between the forces and the Palestinians quickly erupted.
Palestinian officials said before Saturday's incident that Israeli forces have killed 57 Palestinians and injured almost 900 since the resumption of peace talks last July.
The U.S.-brokered negotiations have shown little progress as an April deadline set by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looms. The talks are aimed at achieving Palestinian statehood alongside Israel in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.