Hours after the operation, blood remained on the walls of a small shed next to large villas across a highway from the Aqbat Jabar refugee camp, a densely populated urban slum that is home to 13,000 people. Young men from the camp burned tires in protest and set up barricades around the camp.
Israel confiscated the bodies of the five slain men, while the IDF reported no Israeli casualties. Soldiers have also erected checkpoints around Jericho, creating hours-long waiting lines as they search vehicles and check identification.
Israel in recent months has launched deadly raids of Palestinian cities and villages as part of its “Breaking the Wave” operation, launched in response to a spate of violence targeting Israelis by lone-wolf attackers and newly emerging Palestinian armed groups, largely centered in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus. These groups are typically small, led by young men and are organized on a local level outside of the main Palestinian political parties.
It is unusual for militants to be from Jericho, instead of Nablus or Jenin. Jericho is a sleepy farm and tourist town known more for its bananas and archaeology, rather than armed groups. It is a stronghold of the largely unpopular Palestinian Authority and home of Saeb Erekat, former Palestinian peace negotiator who died in 2020.
Residents of Aqbat Jabar condemned Israel’s operations as collective punishment and said the violence would not end until the occupation of Palestinian land did.
“The occupation is the problem,” said Jamal Omar, chair of the committee charged with the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp administration. “All Palestinians are now afraid for their children.”
The spreading violence, analysts have warned, is the product of a combustible combination of a deep political void among Palestinians and the return of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads Israel’s most right-wing government to date. Members of Netanyahu’s coalition include settler activists and Jewish nationalists calling for annexing the West Bank and harsher policies against Palestinians.
Ayman Daraghmeh, a former Hamas parliamentary member, said the group in Jericho was “close to” but not organized or led by the extremist group.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said more violence would follow in response. “Our people and their resistance will not delay in responding to this crime,” he said.
The IDF released a photograph showing the weapons confiscated during the raid: five assault rifles, one handgun, a homemade gun and ammunition. The widespread presence of illegal weapons has been contributing to the lethality of the current wave of violence.
In the January attack on the restaurant that the IDF said two of the slain men were involved with, the militants fired only one round before at least one of the guns appeared to jam.
No one was hurt, but Israeli officials warned that many could have been injured or killed in the Jan. 28 assault, a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem. An Israeli raid in Jenin on Jan. 26 targeting a militant cell killed 10 Palestinians, including a woman in her 60s.
Jericho is in a part of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, set up in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords as a step toward a Palestinian state. But two decades later there is little belief from other side in a two-state solution, as Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, have spread throughout the West Bank.
“Jericho has always been safe. We heard about these things happening elsewhere but never imagined it here,” said Mais Awadat, 28, seated in her relatives’ bullet-riddled home. “Now it feels worse than the second intifada,” she said, referring to the period of intense clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the early 2000s.
Even before Monday’s raid, the Awadat family were the target of another raid Saturday morning against their house and their neighbors.
During that operation, Adel Awadat, 61, said two shoulder-launched missiles struck his house around 7 a.m. without prior warning while he and four other family members, including his 16-year-old nephew, were inside. An Israeli soldier then called and told the family to come outside as a bulldozer barricaded the front exit.
Soldiers made male members of Awadat’s extended family, who live in the neighboring homes, strip down and stand in the cold and rain, he said, while women and children were put into nearby jeeps.
Some 12 male members of the Awadat family were arrested that night and six remain in jail, said Hasan Awadat, 27.
Nearby, Qassam, 19, an aluminum worker who declined to give his family name, was walking toward one of the funerals for the five dead. He agreed that Jericho was not known before for its militancy, but feared that could be changing.
“We have friend who is now so angry. He keeps talking about getting a gun and shooting. We try to calm him down. But it’s not easy. I feel like the whole atmosphere is changing,” he said.
Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.