JENIN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank | The Israeli military raided the West Bank city of Jenin on Monday, striking the refugee camp with helicopter gunships.
This has triggered the most ferocious fighting in the occupied territory in years, killing five Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, and wounding over 91 others, health officials said, including 12 in critical condition.
Seven Israeli soldiers were also wounded, the army said.
During nearly 10 hours of fighting, Israeli security forces faced off against Palestinian militants with gunfire, armored bulldozers and missile fire from at least one Apache helicopter.
The Israeli military said that helicopters fired at Palestinian gunmen as security forces tried to extract damaged vehicles from the camp.
Israeli security forces rarely deploy airpower to strike Palestinian militant targets in the West Bank.
It was the first such use of a helicopter gunship in the occupied West Bank since the second Palestinian uprising some two decades ago, Israeli media reported. The Jenin refugee camp, long a militant stronghold, witnessed some of the biggest battles at the time.
Palestinian militants targeted Israeli military vehicles with a powerful roadside bomb, disabling five armored vehicles, said Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. Israeli troops were trapped inside the mangled vehicles for hours, he said, adding that the army flooded the camp with troops and heavy vehicles in order to evacuate them.
The militants’ use of a roadside bomb in the West Bank was “very unusual and dramatic,” Hecht said.
A freelance journalist, Hazem Nasser, wearing a clearly marked press vest was shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded. He was shot while filming outside a building that came under fire, his colleagues said.
“Of course there was a lot of shooting and explosions, but everyone knew we were journalists covering it,” said fellow freelance journalist Alaa Badarneh. “All of a sudden we were surrounded and the army started shooting at us.”
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the shooting.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified those killed as Khaled Asasa, 21, Qassam Abu Sariya, 29, Qais Jabarin, 21, Ahmed Daraghmeh,19, and 15-year-old Ahmed Saqr.
The Israeli military said seven members of the paramilitary border police and the army suffered light and moderate wounds.
The escalation was the latest in more than a year of near-daily violence that has wracked the West Bank.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, accused Israel of waging “a fierce and open war” against the Palestinian people and said President Mahmoud Abbas would make “unprecedented decisions” in an upcoming emergency meeting.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned what it called Israel’s “continued escalation against the Palestinians,” saying it only further inflamed the situation and undermined efforts to reduce regional tensions.
Israel and the Palestinians have been gripped by months of violence, focused mainly in the West Bank, where some 124 Palestinians have been killed this year. The city of Jenin has been a hotbed of Palestinian militancy.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.
Israel has been staging near-nightly raids in the West Bank in response to a spasm of Palestinian violence early last year. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have surged during that time.
Israel says most of the dead were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed at least 20 people this year.
Ben Zion reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem contributed to this report.