Israel launched drone strikes on a militant stronghold in the occupied West Bank early Monday, with Palestinian health officials saying that at least eight Palestinians were killed and another 50 wounded.
Israel’s military said it conducted the middle-of-the-night raid on the Jenin refugee camp, striking what it called a “unified command center” for militants. Israeli troops remained at the camp at midday in its largest operation in the West Bank in more than a year.
Black smoke rose from the crowded streets of the camp, with exchanges of gunfire ringing out and drones flying overhead. Residents said electricity was cut in some parts, and military bulldozers plowed through narrow streets, damaging buildings as they cleared the way for Israeli forces.
The Palestinians, neighboring Jordan and Egypt and the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the violence.
Video by Linda Gradstein
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was closely monitoring the conflict and that it was “imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives.” It said the fighting underscored the need for Israeli and Palestinian security forces to work together to restore peace.
The Jenin attack came as Israeli officials faced growing pressure for a tough response to a string of attacks on Israelis in the region, one of which killed four people last month. Jenin has been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence since the spring of 2022.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the operation was "proceeding as planned," but did not say when it would end.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, an army spokesman, said a brigade-size force — roughly 2,000 soldiers — was taking part in the operation, the biggest since a Palestinian uprising ended in 2006.
“We’re not planning to hold ground,” he said. “We’re acting against specific targets.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist who recently called for Israel to kill "thousands" of militants, if necessary, tweeted, "Proud of our heroes on all fronts and this morning especially of our soldiers operating in Jenin. Praying for their success."
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said the Israeli military blocked roads within the camp, took over houses and buildings and set up snipers on rooftops. The tactics signaled the operation could drag on for some time.
Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, "Our Palestinian people will not kneel, will not surrender, will not raise the white flag, and will remain steadfast on their land in the face of this brutal aggression."
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen accused archenemy Iran of being behind the violence by funding Palestinian militant groups.
"Due to the funds they receive from Iran, the Jenin camp has become a center for terrorist activity," he told foreign journalists. He said the operation would be conducted in a "targeted manner" to avoid civilian casualties.
Palestinians reject such claims, saying the violence is a natural response to 56 years of occupation since Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
Lynn Hastings, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian areas, said on Twitter that she was "alarmed by scale of Israeli forces operation." She said the U.N. was mobilizing humanitarian aid.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council urged restraint and called on Israelis and Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral actions that further inflame tensions.”
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.