Clashes escalate after West Bank clashes, Israel attacks Gaza

  • Rockets from Gaza set off alarm in Israeli communities
  • Israeli fire across border after West Bank raid
  • Israeli attack kills at least nine Palestinians
  • Violence spikes in West Bank over past year

JERUSALEM/GAZA, Jan 27 (Reuters) – The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip claimed responsibility for an overnight rocket launch into Israel on Friday, following international efforts to ease tensions in a One of the deadliest attacks in the occupied West Bank in years.

Israeli jets struck Gaza on Friday in retaliation for rockets that set off alarms in Israeli communities near the border with the blocked southern coastal strip controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

There were no casualties reported on either side, and there was no sign of an immediate escalation into the more serious clashes that have become commonplace in recent years, with Palestinian groups firing hundreds of rockets and Israel bombing Gaza.

The overnight exchange came after Israel struck a refugee camp in the West Bank on Thursday, killing at least nine Palestinians, bringing the Palestinian death toll so far in 2023 to at least 30.

The deaths, which included the militant gunman and at least two civilians, were the West Bank’s highest single-day toll in years, with another man killed in a separate incident in Ramum, outside Jerusalem.

The attack, the latest in a series of near-daily clashes in the West Bank over the past year, came days before U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Israel and the West Bank. Washington called for calm on both sides.

In Gaza, thousands of Islamic Jihad supporters rallied after Friday prayers, calling for intensified strikes against Israel following the Jenin raid.

“We’ve been up all night, bombing and missiles,” said Abdallah Al-Husary, 50. “There is worry and fear. War can happen at any moment. Any conflict in the West Bank, Gaza border There could be war along the line.”

In the Jabalya refugee camp, Khaled Al-Batsh, one of the movement’s leaders, claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and said Israel could not separate Gaza from the West Bank.

“The rocket units of the Jerusalem Brigade responded,” he said.

Islamic Jihad, the Iranian-backed movement dedicated to the overthrow of Israel, is active in West Bank hotspot centers such as Nablus and Jenin, as well as in the Gaza Strip, where it exists side by side with the larger and more powerful Hamas group.

In August, Israeli jets bombed targets linked to the group in Gaza during the weekend confrontation, when Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, most of which were intercepted by air defenses.

In May 2021, more intense conflict broke out in Gaza.

The IDF said Friday’s airstrikes in Gaza targeted an underground rocket manufacturing site and a military base used by Hamas.

‘deeply concerned’

Months of violence in the West Bank have surged following a string of deadly attacks in Israel last year, amid fears the already unpredictable conflict could spiral out of control, sparking a broader confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.

The latest season of violence started under the previous coalition government and has continued after the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government, which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand West Bank settlements.

After Thursday’s attack, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited authority over the West Bank, said it would suspend security cooperation arrangements with Israel.

In the Jenin refugee camp, dense buildings and alleyways have been the center of armed activity and the target of repeated Israeli attacks, and residents said Thursday’s operation had penetrated deep into the camp.

A two-story building at the center of the fighting was badly damaged, and nearby houses were blackened by thick smoke. In another area around the camp’s community center, cars were crushed by Israeli bulldozers used in the operation.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Thursday that the United States was “deeply concerned” by the violence in the West Bank and urged both sides to de-escalate the conflict.

The United Nations, Egypt and Qatar also urged calm, Palestinian officials said.

CIA Director William Burns, who arranged a visit to Israel and the West Bank ahead of the latest violence, will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, Palestinian officials said. U.S. officials in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power this year leading one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history, said Israel did not intend to escalate the situation, even as he ordered security forces to remain vigilant.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta and Henriette Chacar in Jenin; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Edmund Blair

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nidal Mugrabi

Thomson Reuters

A veteran journalist with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including several wars and the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.

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