The clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian gunmen have increased to a now daily occurrence, with a death toll nearing 100.
A heavy gun battle broke out Wednesday morning after IDF forces entered the West Bank city of Jenin to apprehend suspected terrorists, including the brother of Raed Hazem, the terrorist who killed three civilians on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street in April. At least four Palestinians were killed and 44 others wounded in clashes that lasted for several hours.
The IDF has been carrying out operations in the West Bank, focusing on cities such as Jenin and Nablus and their refugee camps, as part of Operation Break the Wave to put an end to terrorist attacks.
But the need to crack down on terrorism has had a heavy price. The operations in the West Bank have been the deadliest since 2016, and along with the high number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, two IDF officers have been killed during operations.
In addition to organized terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, local cells of young Palestinians without any clear organizational affiliation and who are active on social-media networks such as TikTok have been identified as trying to instigate attacks.
One such TikTok star was Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, who was killed by soldiers in Jenin in early August. Nabulsi was identified as being the son of a Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) colonel, and the Lions’ Den terrorist group said he was affiliated with them.
Along with organized groups and individuals such as Nabulsi, the army has also identified attempts by groups farther from Israel as trying to promote terrorist attacks in the West Bank and inside Israel.
There has also been a growing number of Palestinians belonging to the PASF who have taken part in attacks and then been killed by Israeli forces. On Wednesday morning, during the Israeli operation in Jenin, a member of the PASF, Ahmed Alawneh, was killed by an IDF sniper as he fired at the forces.
Two weeks ago, an IDF Maj. Bar Falach was killed in a firefight with two Palestinian gunmen near Jenin. Falach, 30, from Netanya, was the deputy commander of the Nahal Brigade’s elite reconnaissance unit. The two Palestinian gunmen who were killed by the force were identified as Ahmed Abed and Abdul Rahman Abed.
Ahmed Abed was an intelligence officer in the PASF.
The Lion's Den
The Lions’ Den on Wednesday called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to instruct the PASF to join in the fight against Israel.
“The security forces have lions that roar, and we will be your soldiers,” it said in a statement. “The enemy understands only the language of fire.”
More than 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested, and security forces have focused on the northern West Bank and cities such as Jenin and Nablus, where most of the arrests have taken place. But despite the high number of arrests over the 200 days of the operation, the increase in shooting attacks has become a major source of concern for the IDF.
Despite the military attempting to crack down on weapons smuggling, sources have told The Jerusalem Post that the years without a strong barrier between Israel and the West Bank have allowed for a significant amount of weapons to flow into the hands of gunmen.
“There was a lot of smuggling; you can just imagine what went through,” one source said, adding that “now we have to fix those years of mistakes.”
Nevertheless, guns and automatic weapons continue to make their way into the hands of Palestinian gunmen via Hezbollah in Lebanon or smuggling routes in the Jordan Valley. Those weapons usually originate from Syria or Iraq. Other weapons are stolen from IDF bases or other areas inside Israel.
But with the IDF cracking down on weapons smuggling, there has been a 300% to 400% increase in the price of ammunition and weapons. For example, a bullet for an M-16 used to cost NIS 3, but it now costs NIS 20.
The IDF has been entering Palestinian cities out of exasperation with what officials have described as a failure to maintain order by the PA. Despite the displeasure, the security coordination between the IDF and PA remains in place, and the military has seen an increase in PASF activity.
“Security cooperation with the PA is being tested right now. It’s in the interest of both sides,” the source said, adding that the defense establishment hopes to see the PASF act in Jenin’s refugee camp as well as in Nablus’s Balata refugee camp “after years of ignoring it.”
But with or without the PA, the defense establishment has stressed that security forces will continue to operate against Palestinian terrorists.
“It doesn’t matter if the PA does their work or not, we will do our job – whatever the time, no matter what,” the source said.
But neither the IDF nor the PA will be able to rid the camps of all the heavy weaponry or militant activity in one shot, the source said, adding, “It takes time.”