The violence came amid a recent rise in clashes in the West Bank that could complicate the already troubled peace efforts as the sides near an April deadline set under American-sponsored talks. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s office condemned the violence, calling it “part of an Israeli policy that aims to destroy everything”, and asked the United States to intervene to save the peace process.
The incident yesterday began with an Israeli raid aimed at arresting Hamza Abu el-Heija, 22, a Hamas operative wanted in connection with shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), described el-Heija as a “ticking bomb” and said he was in the final stages of planning a major onslaught on Israelis.
Palestinian officials said the military encircled a house in the Jenin refugee camp overnight and ordered el-Heija outside. When he refused, the soldiers stormed the building and a shootout ensued.
Lerner said el-Heija first shot an attack dog that was sent inside and then opened fire on the troops outside, wounding two IDF soldiers. When he attempted to escape while still shooting at the Israelis, the troops returned fire and killed him, he claimed.
Within minutes, hundreds of residents and gunmen gathered and attacked the soldiers. IDF troops opened fire and killed two Palestinians and wounded several more. El-Heija was the son of Hamas leader Jamal el-Heija, one of the longest serving prisoners being held in Israel.
The Jenin refugee camp has been a flashpoint for violence in the past. During the Palestinian uprising in the last decade, the military launched a huge operation there to root out militants and dozens were killed.
The Palestinians have two demands for an extension of the talks next month: a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the release of the most senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – territories captured by Israel in 1967 – for an independent state. They have demanded that Israel agree to base the final borders with a future Palestine on the pre-1967 lines, with small land swaps that would allow Israel to keep some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel refuses to commit to the pre-1967 borders, saying these issues should be resolved in talks. It is demanding the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state and cease incitement against Israel.