Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip put southern Israel on red alert before dawn Tuesday. Sept 1 in the wake of a major clash that erupted in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin Sunday night. The circumstances of that episode are not entirely clear. Israel playing the Jenin encounter down, whereas the Palestinians are presenting it as “the biggest battle of the third initifada.” An Israeli soldier and five Palestinians were injured.
It began, debkafile’s military sources report, when a large combined force of the IDF, Shin Bet and Police Special Operations, riding in dozens of vehicles, entered the Jenin camp Monday night to round up Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist suspects. In the Al-Hadaf district, they surrounded the homes of Bassam Al-Saeedi, reputed Jihad chief on the West Bank, and Majdi Abu al-Hejja, a local Hamas military arm operative.
At some point, Israeli rocket fire badly damaged Al-Saeedi’s house.
The IDF sources say it was a single small rocket, without explaining why it was fired. The IDF spokesman first reported “a heavy exchange of fire” around the building. Early Monday, the word “heavy” was dropped from the briefing to reporters and finally, there was no reference to any exchange of fire at all.
The Palestinians claim that the Jihad leader was not at home at the time of the raid and so escaped his pursuers. But there is no word on either side about the fate of any occupants of building and whether any were killed.
Did the IDF decide to knock the building down in response to gunfire coming out of it? Or was it a warning to the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups to halt their latest spate of violence or lose their homes?
Another mystery is how Bassam Al-Saeedi came to be away from home, confounding the information reaching the Shin Bet? Did he get a tip-off of the impending Israeli raid for his arrest?
If armed Palestinian groups on the West Bank have taken to posting spotters outside their areas to forewarn them of approaching Israeli forces, this would ratchet up their operational tactics to the military level observed by fellow Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups in the Gaza Strip.
While Bassam Al-Saheedi escaped arrest, the Hamas operative Majdi Abu al-Hejja and his brother were captured and taken away for interrogation.
In weighing in heavily for a preventive detention operation against suspected terrorist leaders Sunday night, Israeli security chiefs were almost certainly acting on a decision to avert any possible terrorist action for disrupting the opening of the school year Monday, Sept. 1. The level of Palestinian violence on and from the West Bank and Jerusalem has risen sharply in recent weeks.
Thirteen years ago, at the peak of the Palestinians’ Second intifada, Israel launched a major assault on the Jenin refugee camp. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were lost in this major battle on April 5, 2002. Since then, the refugee camp has claimed to hold the flag of armed Palestinian resistance to Israel and its army. Security forces arriving there to detain suspects routinely come under a hail of rocks and firebombs. However, the current clash of arms represented a sharp escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation on the West Bank.