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HomeNationalIsraelis and Palestinians on edge, even as the risk of inflaming the...

Israelis and Palestinians on edge, even as the risk of inflaming the outflows MIGMG News

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Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for fresh violence on Friday with tensions high after the deadliest Israeli attack in more than two decades, even as the likelihood of a major escalation of the conflict appears to be receding.

A raid on the Jenin refugee camp on Thursday resulted in a gun battle that killed at least nine Palestinians, while clashes elsewhere left another dead. Gaza militants then fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes overnight – but the exchanges were limited, following a familiar pattern that allows both sides to respond without leading to further flare-ups.

Meanwhile, Israel’s defense minister has instructed the military to prepare for new attacks in the Gaza Strip “if necessary” – also appearing to leave open the possibility that the violence could ease.

Still, the flare-up represents an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and prompted “deep concern” from the State Department ahead of an expected trip by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the region next week. The raid also prompted the Palestinian Authority to end security coordination with Israel.

While residents of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank remained calm on Friday, midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, often a catalyst for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, passed relatively peacefully.

At the funeral of the 22-year-old killed in clashes sparked by the initial raid, crowds of Palestinians carried the young man’s body and waved the flags of both Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, and the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. On the streets of a town called Al Ram, masked Palestinians threw stones and set off fireworks at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas.

But so far, both Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes have appeared limited to prevent an escalation into full-scale war. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

Palestinian rockets have been fired into southern Israel, while non-lethal Israeli airstrikes have targeted targets in Gaza, such as training camps and an underground rocket production site.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant claimed the military had dealt a “severe blow” to Palestinian militants in Gaza and said the army was preparing to attack “high-quality targets … until peace is restored to the citizens of Israel.”

On Friday, Israeli police were out in force in Jerusalem as scores of Muslim worshipers gathered for prayers in the stone courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque and chanted in solidarity with those killed in the Jenin attack.

Tensions at the holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, have sparked violence in the past, including the bloody 2021 Gaza war. The site is considered the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.

“We will sacrifice you in spirit and blood,” shouted the Muslim faithful. “Greetings Jenin, greetings Gaza.”

Eyad Shaher, a 45-year-old construction worker from Bethlehem who prays weekly at Al-Aqsa, said he was relieved to have a peaceful morning.

“Thank God he was fine and had no problems after that damn day,” he said, referring to Thursday’s events.

Tensions have risen since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring following a series of Palestinian attacks. Jenin, which was an important militant stronghold during the 2000-2005 intifada and has re-emerged as one, has been the focus of many Israeli operations. Seven militants and a 61-year-old woman were among those killed in Thursday’s raid.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to an Associated Press count.

Israel says most of the dead are militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations were also killed.

Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates, warned on Friday that “Israel’s escalation in Jenin is dangerous and disturbing and undermines international efforts to advance the priority of the peace agenda.” The UAE recognized Israel in 2020 along with Bahrain, which has remained silent on the surge in violence.

News of the nine killed in Jenin and overnight rockets rang out on phones and radios in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday as young Palestinians milled about and women threw raisins.

Ibrahim Salameh, a 21-year-old smoking on the steps of Damascus Gate, said he had never been so scared. On Wednesday, he said, his teenage neighbor was killed as police entered Shufat refugee camp to demolish the gunman’s home.

“Every day there is more and more fear, more tension,” he said. “I kind of live with this idea that I could be shot at any moment.

In the West Bank, Fatah announced a general strike and most shops were closed in Palestinian towns. The PA announced on Thursday that it would sever ties its security forces maintain with Israel in a joint effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, partly because of the benefits the government enjoys from the relationship and also because of pressure from the US and Israel.

The PA has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp.

Israel says its raids are aimed at destroying militant networks and preventing attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want those territories to form any eventual state.

Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that are now home to 500,000 people. Palestinians and much of the international community see the settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have languished for more than a decade.


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