Israel’s military said on Wednesday that it had withdrawn from the West Bank city of Jenin after a large-scale incursion that killed at least 12 Palestinians, left one Israeli soldier dead and led thousands to flee their homes.
Even as Palestinian militant groups celebrated the retreat of Israeli troops — initially confirmed by Israeli and Palestinian officials — sirens blared in Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip after five missiles were fired from the Palestinian enclave, the Israeli military said. No injuries were immediately reported, and the military said Israel’s air-defense system had intercepted all five.
In response to the rocket fire, Israeli fighter jets struck what the military described as an underground Hamas facility used for manufacturing weapons and another site used by Hamas for the production of raw rocket materials, according to posts on Twitter. Hamas is the Palestinian militant faction that controls Gaza.
Israel’s chief military spokesman said on Wednesday morning that the operation in Jenin, focused on the refugee camp in the city, was over. “All our troops are out of the camp,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told Kan News, Israel’s public radio.
But he added that he expected the Israeli military would have to return to operate in the area in the future.
The Jenin operation, which began on Monday with a rare use of airstrikes, was the biggest that Israel had launched in the area in many years. The area has been the source of dozens of shooting attacks on Israelis, according to Israeli military data. Jenin is a bastion for the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as being home to newer armed militias that have sprung up and do not answer to the established organizations.
Four of the Palestinians killed were under 18 years old, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, and at least five were claimed by Palestinian militant groups as fighters, including a boy of 16. At least 120 other people were injured, including 20 seriously, the ministry said.
Amid the military operation, eight people were wounded by a Palestinian driver in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Israeli officials said. The assailant was shot and killed by a civilian, Israeli security officials said.
The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, identified the attacker as Abd al-Wahab Khalaila, a 20-year-old Palestinian from Samua, a small town in the southern West Bank. Mr. Khalaila had no previous security record, the agency said.
“We’ve assessed that because of our activity in Judea and Samaria, the motivation and potential for attacks would rise,” the Israeli police chief, Yaakov Shabtai, told reporters, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the attack would not deter Israel “in our struggle against terrorism.”
The military operation in Jenin and the attack in Tel Aviv added to the tension in the region, after the most right-wing government in Israeli history took power six months ago. The coalition government’s leaders promised to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory and to administer a tougher response to violence, while the Palestinian Authority has increasingly lost control of hotbeds of militancy in the occupied West Bank.
The military incursion had sent people fleeing, with as many as 3,000 of the camp’s roughly 17,000 residents seeking shelter in schools and other public buildings, or with families elsewhere. The sun rose on Tuesday on deserted alleyways in Jenin’s refugee camp, a usually crowded quarter abutting the West Bank city that was the focus of the incursion.
“We were huddling together in the middle of our house, terrified that a rocket might strike us at any moment,” said Omar Obeid, 60, a resident of the camp who fled the fighting with his children late Monday night.
About 1,000 Israeli troops searched the camp on Tuesday after earlier finding and confiscating caches of weapons, explosive devices and other military equipment, according to the Israeli military, which added that its forces had also destroyed laboratories for manufacturing explosives.
Clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants intensified on Tuesday evening after a relatively calmer period of scattered firefights. The Israeli military said its air force had struck Palestinian militants on the city’s outskirts, while Palestinian officials accused Israeli soldiers of firing tear gas into a hospital. The Israelis denied any attacks near hospitals.
Mr. Netanyahu said late Tuesday afternoon, during a visit to an army base near Jenin, that the operation was in its final stages. “At this moment, we are completing the mission,” he said.
Analysts and former generals with the Israeli military said that it was in Israel’s interest to wrap up the operation as soon as possible to avoid escalation in Jenin and to prevent any spillover of tensions into other areas, such as the Hamas-run territory of Gaza, which could result in a broader conflict.
The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories at the request of the United Arab Emirates, according to a U.N. post on Twitter.
Jenin, long a militant stronghold, has been at the center of escalating tensions and violence in the year leading up to the incursion on Monday morning. As the military continued its operation there, Israeli television reported that the attack on civilians in Tel Aviv had injured a pregnant woman, who lost her baby,
In security camera footage broadcast on Israeli television, a car can be seen slamming into a curb in a residential area in the northern part of the city. The driver then leaves his car and chases and stabs at passers-by, brandishing a heavy object. Three people were in serious condition, the police said.
Hamas claimed Mr. Khalaila as a member and praised the attack as a response to “the Zionist occupation’s aggression in Jenin.” But Palestinian groups have been known to claim as members or publicly honor all those killed by Israel, and Hamas stopped short of taking direct responsibility for the assault.
Leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad issued statements later on Tuesday declaring victory as signs emerged of an Israeli pullout.
Israeli officials said that the latest military incursion was not intended to conquer or hold territory in Jenin. The chief military spokesman, Admiral Hagari, said on Tuesday that 120 wanted men had been arrested and were being interrogated by the security services.
“There is no point in the camp that we have not reached, including its core,” Admiral Hagari wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. He said that each of the military units operating in the camp had been given a number of defined targets to search during the day, adding, “If we encounter friction with terrorists — we will fight them as well.”
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, had called on the international community, including the United States, “to intervene immediately” to “stop the Israeli aggression and force Israel to withdraw immediately from Jenin and its camp,” warning of the displacement of large numbers of residents.
The Palestinian Authority announced that it was ceasing all contact with Israel over the Jenin raid.
The Israeli operation began shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday with airstrikes from drones, a new tactic being employed by Israel in the West Bank. The strikes were the most intense use of air power in the occupied territory in about two decades.
Israel said that all the Palestinians who had been killed so far were combatants. The Palestinian authorities did not specify whether those who died were all combatants or included civilians.
A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces also said on Twitter that a soldier had been killed “by gunfire” during the military operation on Tuesday evening.
Some Palestinian officials said that Israel had threatened and forced camp residents to evacuate their homes.
“Houses have been demolished, broken into, and the people were forced out of their own homes,” the mayor of Jenin, Nidal Obeidi, told the radio station Voice of Palestine on Tuesday.
Israeli officials denied that they had carried out any forced evacuations but confirmed that some residents had received text messages from Israeli numbers advising them to leave their homes temporarily.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel; Myra Noveck from Jerusalem; and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.