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Israel Steps Up Raids in Palestinian Territories in Response to Attacks

JENIN, West Bank — Ramadan nights in this Palestinian city are normally spent staying up late watching drama and comedy series during what is peak TV season, praying or drinking coffee and smoking hookah pipes at all-night cafes.

But this year in Jenin, amid a widespread Israeli military operation throughout the occupied West Bank, residents are staying up late waiting for the next military raid in their city.

“We’re exhausted,” said Israa Awartani, 32, who works at a theater. “We start to think: ‘When will it be my turn? When will it be my son or another family member?”

For the past week, Israeli forces have carried out a widespread campaign of raids into towns and cities across the West Bank, in a response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. The Israeli authorities have imposed temporary economic sanctions and arrested dozens of people.

Israel says that the stepped-up military activities are a counterterrorism effort to prevent further attacks, and that it has focused them on the hometowns and villages of the recent attackers. However, Palestinian residents and critics say the operation amounts to collective punishment and is counterproductive, as it will only further stoke the cycle of hatred and bloodshed.

At least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of Ramadan on April 2, including 16-year-old Mohammad Zakarneh, who was shot and killed on Sunday during one of the Israeli raids in Jenin, his mother said. He was leaving work at a produce shop and was heading home to break his Ramadan fast. The Israeli military would not comment on his death.

Also killed was Ghada Sabteen, 47, a widow and mother of six who was shot in the leg as she approached soldiers at a checkpoint near Bethlehem. Palestinian authorities have called for an investigation into her killing, but the Israeli military has not commented on whether it would conduct one.

On Wednesday, Mohammad Assaf, a 34-year-old lawyer, was shot in the chest and killed during a raid in the city of Nablus, reportedly shortly after dropping his children off at school.

Israel’s military operation comes in the wake of the worst wave of violence in Israel since 2016. The latest attack, on April 7, was carried out by a 28-year-old Palestinian gunman from Jenin who opened fire outside a busy bar in Tel Aviv, killing two people and wounding 13 others. He was later shot and killed by Israeli police forces. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the attack.

This week, Palestinian authorities also condemned Israel’s raids in the West Bank and killing of civilians, calling it collective punishment, and they urged the international community to intervene. The Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement that it held Israel fully responsible for the repercussions of its actions.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and controls over 60 percent of its territory. It maintains a two-tier legal system there — one for the five million stateless Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers — and restricts Palestinian movement and other rights, a system that a growing number of human rights groups and advocates have called apartheid.

The Israeli government, in response to a recent such accusation from a United Nations investigator, said that it was unfair to blame Israel for the system given the threats posed by armed Palestinian groups in the occupied territories.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel had gone on the offensive.

“The State of Israel will do everything necessary to overcome this terrorism. We will settle accounts with everyone who was linked, either directly or indirectly, to the attacks,” he said, adding, “We will reach anywhere necessary, at any time, in order to root out these terrorist operations.”

He said there were “no restrictions” on the country’s security forces.

For the last week, Israeli forces have raided Jenin nearly every day or night, local officials and residents said. The city, like most Palestinian urban centers in the West Bank, is governed by the Palestinian Authority, but Israeli forces still regularly carry out night raids and arrests in these areas. In January during one such raid in the village of Jiljilya, a 78-year-old Palestinian American man died while in custody.

Rather than containing the latest wave of attacks, Israel’s actions will have the opposite effect, said a Western diplomat in Ramallah. The aggressive Israeli approach risks creating a new cycle of frustration, despair and victims, said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive political matters.

Before leaving for work each morning, Ms. Awartani checks the latest news on local social media.

“I fear I could be going to work and suddenly come upon Israeli soldiers in the street and they could shoot me,” said the mother of three girls, twin 7-year-olds and a 3-year-old. “I could die, I could become paralyzed. Then who is going to take care of my daughters?”

Ms. Awartani works in accounting at the well-known Freedom Theater, the epicenter of cultural resistance in Jenin. The theater canceled its month of programming throughout Ramadan out of respect for those killed during Israeli raids in the city and its refugee camp.

Mustafa Sheta, the theater’s manager, said he feared taking his four kids to school each morning, worried Israeli snipers might still be positioned on rooftops.

Ms. Awartani said her sister-in-law refused to go to sleep before her two university-age sons did, fearful that they would leave the house at night and be shot dead during a raid.

“We’re all afraid of losing our children,” Ms. Awartani said.

Jenin was also targeted by economic sanctions. On April 9, Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, closed border crossings between Jenin and Israel, preventing tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel from coming to Jenin to shop — a major pillar of the city’s economy.

Jenin’s merchants and businesspeople who have permits to enter Israel were no longer allowed to cross, and the transportation of all goods and products from Jenin was also banned. Permits that had been issued for 5,000 Jenin residents to visit relatives in Israel were also revoked.

Border crossings were reopened Saturday, but it was unclear if other restrictions would also be lifted.

“The objective is always to increase pressure but it never works. If it worked you wouldn’t see the same cycle of violence we see annually,” said Tahani Mustafa, a West Bank analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Israel recycles the same heavy-handed response to what it sees as Palestinian provocation.”

In the wake of last week’s attack in Tel Aviv, some Israelis said the violence had brought up memories of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and its violent suppression by Israel, a period of unrest that lasted from 2000 to 2005 and that killed about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

For Palestinians, too, Israel’s response is evoking memories of the intifada, which has left scars still visible in Jenin. In the part of the city that originated as a refugee camp, bullet holes pockmark the walls of many buildings. Many homes were constructed after 2002, when Israel leveled hundreds of buildings in response to a string of suicide bombings.

Everywhere along the walls are posters of those killed by Israel — some of them members of Palestinian militant groups, some of them civilians. The faces of those killed in the last week of violence have yet to be added to the camp’s walls.

On a recent morning at intersections and roundabouts, schoolchildren walked past tires stacked like pillars and dumpsters used to block roads to slow Israeli incursions. Hours after Israeli forces pulled out, one dumpster was still smoldering as children walked home.

At a jewelry shop in Jenin’s main shopping district, lights glinted off rows of gold jewelry. But there were few buyers.

With Israel banning crossings into Jenin, business owners say they have lost more than half of their customers leading into the end of Ramadan, one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year.

The jewelry shop’s owner, Abdullah Dawaseh, 60, said that just as Palestinians had survived the intifada, they would survive this.

Hours earlier, the Israeli military had raided a neighborhood less than half a mile from the commercial drag.

“When you punish an entire population, then the entire population is going to erupt,” he said, speaking from behind a counter full of diamond rings. “Just as they want to be safe when they go to the market, we, too, want to be safe when we go to the market.”

Reporting was contributed by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad in Haifa, Myra Noveck in Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman in Rehovot, Israel.

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