Israel Takes War on Gaza to West Bank Camps

Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Israel Takes War on Gaza to West Bank Camps

Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The morning of Tuesday, May 12 was supposed to be a normal day in the city of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The city came to life after a night of calm that was not disrupted by Israeli raids or assassinations.

Employees went to work, students, teachers and professors headed to their schools and universities and stores were open for the day. However, the next minutes would become another bloody chapter in the sad city’s history.

No one who made their way through the streets of Jenin that morning knew that zero hour for an Israeli military operation had arrived. No one knew that the next few minutes would turn the streets and buildings into a warzone.

An Israeli special forces unit had infiltrated the city in a car carrying a Palestinian license plate. Emerging from the car were snipers who took position on the roofs of several buildings ahead of the operation.

A little after 8:00 am, the special unit and the snipers began opening fire at “anything that moved”, recalled an eyewitness. Seven people were killed immediately, including two students, a teacher and a surgeon.

Damaged houses are seen in Jenin camp following the Israeli operation in May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Mahmoud

One of the students was 15-year-old Mahmoud Hamadna, who had left home with his twin brother to head to school near the Jenin camp. He had end of year exams that day. His father recalled to Asharq Al-Awsat that he immediately contacted his son as soon as he heard warning sirens ring in the camp. Mahmoud answered that he had safely arrived at school.

“I was relieved that they were well,” added the father. However, the sudden Israeli operation sparked confusion throughout the city. Unbeknownst to the father, the school authorities had asked the faculty, staff and students to return home because they feared an escalation, similar to what had happened in the past.

With a heavy heart, the father recalled the moment the brother returned home alone without Mahmoud. “I tried to contact him, but he didn’t answer his phone. I called him over 15 times with no answer,” he said. Meanwhile, Mahmoud had been making his way home on his bicycle. As soon as he left the school premises, he was shot by a sniper five times in the chest and head.

Still calling his phone, a person finally answered the father, and he was informed that Mahmoud had been taken to hospital. “I lost my mind when I found out that he was wounded,” said the father. He headed to hospital with the mother. It was dangerous journey with snipers shooting at their car.

“I arrived at the hospital thinking my son was injured, but I found out that he had been martyred. I didn't make it on time. He was dead,” added the father.

Long operation

As the sirens wailed, members of the Palestinian military brigades took their positions in the streets and fierce battles ensued with the Israeli forces. In the meantime, Israeli military vehicles advanced in the city, accompanied by bulldozers and drones flying overhead. The Israeli military spokesman announced that an expanded military operation was underway in Jenin to eliminate Palestinian fighters. Over a thousand soldiers were deployed. They occupied several homes and buildings and imposed a tight siege on the camp.

Fighting and explosions

An Israeli patrol roams the streets of Jenin in May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

A team from Asharq Al-Awsat had been on the outskirts of Jenin on an unrelated task to observe the situation in the city as the war on Gaza raged on. Its arrival in Jenin coincided with the launch of the operation.

The sound of bullet fire and successive explosions filled the streets. Black smoke billowed over the city, while drones hovered overhead. Shops were shut and people sought the safety of their homes. Streets and alleyways became warzones between the Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces.

The army had besieged the camp, or what it called the “hornets' nest”, barring anyone from leaving or entering. It cut off electricity and communication lines, isolating the city from the world.

The Israeli forces also barred the entry of ambulances and the evacuation of the wounded, even opening fire at them. Journalists were also prevented from entering.

The operation went on for 48 hours. Once the Israeli forces withdrew, the Asharq Al-Awsat team was able to enter Jenin and assess the damage and destruction. Jenin is home to 12,000 people. Houses and shops were riddled with bullets, while others were razed to the ground.

The Israeli army had escalated its operations against vital infrastructure in Jenin city and its camp. The infrastructure has become a target so that pressure would grow on the armed factions, explained the locals.

A leading member of the Fatah movement, Jamal Haweel told Asharq Al-Awsat that Israel was seeking to use the destruction to weaken the support the armed factions enjoy in Jenin.

In 2002, the Israeli forces raided Jenin camp, seeking to occupy it. The greatest battle since 1967 ensued Around 1,200 homes were destroyed and dozens of people were killed, he recalled. Israel is playing a psychological game and trying to turn the people against the factions.

“The people, however, are aware that the resistance brings them dignity and freedom despite the destruction caused by the enemy,” he stressed.

Mounting death toll

The Israeli army had intensified its operations in Jenin and the West Bank since the eruption of the war on Gaza on October 7. It has carried out over 70 raids, killing over 142 Palestinians in Jenin – the greatest death in the West Bank where 540 people have been killed and 5,200 injured. The Israeli military has also arrested over 8,000 Palestinians.

Negotiations over a ceasefire in Gaza have not included the West Bank, raising serious concerns among the Palestinians that the Israelis have more escalation in store for them. These fears have been compounded by hardline Israeli ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who vowed to take the war on Gaza to the West Bank.

A masked Palestinian is seen in Jenin city during the Israeli operation in May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

High accuracy

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with fighters in Jenin as soon as Israel ended its 48-hour operation. One of their leaders remarked that this battle was different than others, saying the fighters showed “high tactics and accuracy”.

He revealed that the fighters were resorting now to ambushes and advanced explosive devices in combating the Israeli forces, sparking deep concern among Israeli military and security authorities. He added that not a single fighter was killed in the latest round of fighting. “The occupier failed in killing and wounding a single combatant,” he stated. This has forced Israel to change tactics and turn to special units and snipers and to use air cover during its raids.

Moreover, the fighter said the war in the camp is an extension to the war in Gaza. The confrontation with the Israeli army intensified after October 7, he added, revealing that some military units that had fought in Gaza were now fighting in Jenin.



Biden's Withdrawal Injects Uncertainty Into Wars, Trade Disputes and Other Foreign Policy Challenges

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
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Biden's Withdrawal Injects Uncertainty Into Wars, Trade Disputes and Other Foreign Policy Challenges

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Joe Biden's withdrawal from the US presidential race injects greater uncertainty into the world at a time when Western leaders are grappling with wars in Ukraine and Gaza, a more assertive China in Asia and the rise of the far-right in Europe.
During a five-decade career in politics, Biden developed extensive personal relationships with multiple foreign leaders that none of the potential replacements on the Democratic ticket can match. After his announcement, messages of support and gratitude for his years of service poured in from near and far, said The Associated Press.
The scope of foreign policy challenges facing the next US president makes clear how consequential what happens in Washington is for the rest of the planet. Here's a look at some of them.
ISRAEL With Vice President Kamala Harris being eyed as a potential replacement for Biden, Israelis on Sunday scrambled to understand what her candidacy would mean for their country as it confronts increasing global isolation over its military campaign against Hamas.
Israel’s left-wing Haaretz daily newspaper ran a story scrutinizing Harris’ record of support for Israel, pointing to her reputation as Biden’s “bad cop" who has vocally admonished Israel for its offensive in Gaza. In recent months, she has gone further than Biden in calling for a cease-fire, denouncing Israel's invasion of Rafah and expressing horror over the civilian death toll in Gaza.
“With Biden leaving, Israel has lost perhaps the last Zionist president,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “A new Democratic candidate will upend the dynamic.”
Biden's staunch defense of Israel since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack has its roots in his half-century of support for the country as a senator, vice president, then president. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant thanked Biden for his “unwavering support of Israel over the years.”
“Your steadfast backing, especially during the war, has been invaluable,” Gallant wrote on X.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog praised Biden as a “symbol of the unbreakable bond between our two peoples" and a “true ally of the Jewish people.” There was no immediate reaction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ally of former President Donald Trump whose history of cordial relations with Biden has come under strain during the Israel-Hamas war.
UKRAINE Any Democratic candidate would likely continue Biden’s legacy of staunch military support for Ukraine. But frustration with the Biden administration has grown in Ukraine and Europe over the slow pace of US aid and restrictions on the use of Western weapons.
“Most Europeans realize that Ukraine is increasingly going to be their burden,” said Sudha David-Wilp, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, a research institute. “Everyone is trying to get ready for all the possible outcomes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on X that he respected the “tough but strong decision” by Biden to drop out of the campaign, and he thanked Biden for his help “in preventing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from occupying our country.”
Trump has promised to end Russia's war on Ukraine in one day if he is elected — a prospect that has raised fears in Ukraine that Russia might be allowed to keep the territory it occupies.
Trump's vice presidential pick, Ohio Sen. JD Vance, is among Congress’ most vocal opponents of US aid for Ukraine and has further raised the stakes for Kyiv.
Russia, meanwhile, dismissed the importance of the race, insisting that no matter what happened, Moscow would press on in Ukraine.
“We need to pay attention,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by a pro-Russian tabloid. “We need to watch what will happen and do our own thing."
CHINA In recent months, both Biden and Trump have tried to show voters who can best stand up to Beijing’s growing military strength and belligerence and protect US businesses and workers from low-priced Chinese imports. Biden has hiked tariffs on electric vehicles from China, and Trump has promised to implement tariffs of 60% on all Chinese products.
Trump’s “America First” doctrine exacerbated tensions with Beijing. But disputes with the geopolitical rival and economic colossus over wars, trade, technology and security continued into Biden's term.
China's official reaction to the US presidential race has been careful. The official Xinhua news agency treated the story of Biden’s decision as relatively minor. The editor of the party-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, downplayed the impact of Biden's withdrawal.
“Whoever becomes the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party may be the same," he wrote on X. “Voters are divided into two groups, Trump voters and Trump haters.”
IRAN With Iran's proxies across the Middle East increasingly entangled in the Israel-Hamas war, the US confronts a region in disarray.
Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis struck Tel Aviv for the first time last week, prompting retaliatory Israeli strikes inside war-torn Yemen. Simmering tensions and cross-border attacks between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group and the Israeli military have raised fears of an all-out regional conflagration.
Hamas, which also receives support from Iran, continues to fight Israel even nine months into a war that has killed 38,000 Palestinians and displaced over 80% of Gaza's population.
The US and its allies have accused Iran of expanding its nuclear program and enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60% level, near-weapons-grade levels.
After then-President Trump in 2018 withdrew from Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers, Biden said he wanted to reverse his predecessor's hawkish anti-Iran stance. But the Biden administration has maintained severe economic sanctions against Iran and overseen failed attempts to renegotiate the agreement.
The sudden death of Ebrahim Raisi — the supreme leader's hard-line protege — in a helicopter crash vaulted a new reformist to the presidency in Iran, generating new opportunities and risks. Masoud Pezeshkian has said he wants to help Iran open up to the world but has maintained a defiant tone against the US.
EUROPE AND NATO Many Europeans were happy to see Trump go after his years of disparaging the European Union and undermining NATO. Trump's seemingly dismissive attitude toward European allies in last month's presidential debate did nothing to assuage those concerns.
Biden, on the other hand, has supported close American relations with bloc leaders.
That closeness was on stark display after Biden's decision to bow out of the race. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called his choice “probably the most difficult one in your life.” The newly installed British prime minister, Keir Starmer, said he respected Biden’s “decision based on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people.”
There was also an outpouring of affection from Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, who called Biden a “proud American with an Irish soul."
The question of whether NATO can maintain its momentum in supporting Ukraine and checking the ambitions of other authoritarian states hangs in the balance of this presidential election, analysts say.
“They don't want to see Donald Trump as president. So there's quite a bit of relief but also quite a bit of nervousness" about Biden's decision to drop out, said Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Like many in the United States, but perhaps more so, they are really quite confused.”
MEXICO The close relationship between Mexico and the US has been marked in recent years by disagreements over trade, energy and climate change. Since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took power in 2018, both countries have found common ground on the issue of migration – with Mexico making it more difficult for migrants to cross its country to the US border and the US not pressing on other issues.
The López Obrador administration kept that policy while Trump was president and continued it into Biden's term.
On Friday, Mexico’s president called Trump “a friend” and said he would write to him to warn him against pledging to close the border or blaming migrants for bringing drugs into the United States.
“I am going to prove to him that migrants don’t carry drugs to the United States,” he said, adding that “closing the border won’t solve anything, and anyway, it can’t be done.”