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Israel kills three Palestinians in West Bank drone strike

Strike is first aerial attack in occupied West Bank in nearly 20 years
Israeli drone strike on 21 June 2023 hit a car carrying three Palestinians near Jenin in the occupied West Bank (Social media)
By Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem

The Israeli military killed three Palestinians in a drone strike near Jenin on Wednesday, in the first aerial attack in the occupied West Bank in nearly 20 years.

The Palestinian Civil Defence said the remains of three men were found at the location of the strike but Israeli forces were withholding the bodies. 

The Israeli military confirmed the attack and claimed it targeted a squad of Palestinian fighters near the Jalamah military checkpoint, which sits around 5km north of the city of Jenin. 

The Jenin Brigades said two of the slain men, commander Sohaib al-Ghoul and fighter Ashraf al-Saadi, belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement's military branch - the al-Quds Brigades (Saraya al-Quds).

It said the third man was Mohammad Owais, a leader in the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. 

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Awni Almashni, a Fatah political activist, said the drone strike, which was the first targeted killing in the West Bank since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, marked a "dangerous escalation". 

"This means Israel has failed to deal with the rise of Palestinian armed resistance on the ground over the past two years," he said.

The Palestinian movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad decried the attack late on Wednesday and said Israel would "pay the price" for the killings.

"The occupation army has become unable to confront the heroes of the resistance on the battlefield," said Hamas spokesperson Abdellatif Qannou. 

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad movement said the "assassinations will not undermine our resolve for we have prepared for [Israeli force] what will bring them remorse". 

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant hailed his forces after the strike and vowed to take a "proactive approach against terror". 

Mohammad Atiq, a Jenin-based activist, said the decision to use air strikes in the West Bank came after months of hesitation from the military. 

"Since the decision was made to authorise this strike, the military will likely continue to use such targeted killings now," Atiq told MEE.

"This hasn't happened since 2006."

Different West Bank reality

Wednesday's drone strike also came just two days after the Israeli military deployed Apache attack helicopters in Jenin following a raid that killed seven Palestinians and wounded 91.

The Apache was deployed to help evacuate Israeli commandos who were stuck in an ambush set by Palestinian fighters.

Following the raid, two Palestinians shot and killed four Israeli settlers near Nablus on Tuesday, before being killed.

In the aftermath of the shootings, scores of Israeli settlers torched homes, vehicles and agricultural land in Palestinian towns and villages near Nablus and Ramallah on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The settler violence saw one Palestinian killed in Turmusaya town and scores wounded.

'We are facing a new reality in the West Bank'

- Awni Almashni, Fatah political activist

Almashni said the settler attacks combined with the air strikes could trigger further armed resistance from Palestinians in the West Bank, including from members of the Palestinian Authority. 

"When PA security officers see their fathers and mothers come under attack, they will naturally use their guns to fight back," Almashni said. 

"We are facing a new reality in the West Bank. The approach that has dictated life in the past 30 years - Oslo agreements, friendly neighbours and so on - is over."

Since the start of the year, Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 170 Palestinians, including 25 children.

A total of 134 fatalities have been recorded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a further 36 in the Gaza Strip.

In the same period, Palestinians have killed at least 24 Israelis.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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