TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli forces raided a home above a bakery in a militant stronghold in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing a Palestinian militant in a gunbattle in Jenin, a city that has seen some of the worst bloodshed in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Violence has gripped the region since last spring when Israel launched near-nightly raids in response to a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks. It’s become the fiercest fighting in the West Bank in some two decades, and along with increased violence by radical Jewish settlers and settlement expansion by Israel’s far-right government, has fueled tensions in the region.
Early Thursday, Israeli troops surrounded a building containing a bakery and a home. In a statement, the Israeli military said special forces were arresting two militant suspects when they came under fire, shot back and entered the building.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man killed as Mustafa al-Kastouni, 32, and he was claimed by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party, as one of its fighters. The Hamas militant group said its fighters engaged in a gunbattle with Israeli troops in Jenin and lobbed explosives at the forces.
The military said al-Kastouni was killed after he shot at troops. It said he was linked to militant activity against Israeli forces.
Witnesses told Palestinian media that Israeli special forces surrounded the bakery and the home above it, opened fire and struck the home. Video on social media showed piles of debris scattered beneath a sign reading “Al-Nour Modern Bakery” as men rushed al-Kastouni’s body away from the scene.
Jenin, a city where Palestinian security forces have little presence, has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israel. The city and an adjacent refugee camp have been the focus of Israel’s monthslong operation, with an intense 2-day offensive last month at the height of those efforts. Israel deployed armed drones and hundreds of troops, leaving vast destruction and killing 12 Palestinians, most of them militants. An Israeli soldier also died.
Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians see the violence as a natural response to 56 years of occupation, including stepped-up settlement construction by Israel’s government and increased violence by Jewish settlers.
The ongoing violence in the West Bank has surged to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with more than 170 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since the start of 2023, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
At least 27 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the beginning of the year.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.
Shurafa reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.