Israel’s military pressed on for a second day on Tuesday with an operation aimed at rooting out armed groups in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, as the Palestinian death toll rose to 10, according to Palestinian health officials.
Israel said that all those who had been killed so far in the largest incursion that it has mounted in many years in the area were combatants. Militant groups have so far claimed five of them as members. The Palestinian authorities have not specified whether those who died were all combatants or included civilians.
The sun rose on deserted alleyways in Jenin’s refugee camp, a usually crowded quarter abutting the city that is the focus of the military incursion, with up to 3,000 of the camp’s roughly 17,000 residents having sought shelter in schools and other public buildings, or with families elsewhere, while others holed up in their homes.
About 1,000 troops continued searching the camp on Tuesday after having earlier found and confiscated caches of weapons, explosive devices and other military equipment, according to the Israeli military, adding that it had also destroyed laboratories for manufacturing explosives.
Jenin, long a hotbed of militancy, has been at the center of escalating tensions and violence in the year leading up to the incursion early on Monday morning.
A stronghold of the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as home to newer armed militias that have sprung up and do not answer to the established organizations, the Jenin area has been the source of dozens of shooting attacks on Israelis, according to Israeli military data.
The city and its environs have been the target of frequent and often deadly raids by the Israeli military to arrest Palestinians suspected of armed activity, often prompting prolonged shootouts between Israeli forces and local gunmen.
Israeli officials said the latest military incursion was not intended to conquer or hold territory in Jenin, adding that it would continue for as long as it took for the mission to be completed. Analysts said that probably meant hours or a few days at most.
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel 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, 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 operation opened 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.
In a statement late Monday, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad claimed four of the dead as fighters, including a boy of 16. Another militia loosely affiliated with Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian faction that dominates the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has claimed a fifth.
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. According to reports from the camp aired on the station, the sound of explosions and exchanges of fire had rung around the camp since dawn.
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. Admiral Hagari said that the Israeli forces had allowed and even encouraged women and children to leave.
The local Red Crescent emergency service has reported electricity outages and water problems in the camp after Israeli armored bulldozers ripped up roads to unearth improvised bombs and tripwires.
Analysts and former generals with the Israeli military said that it would be in its interest to wrap up the operation as soon as possible to avoid mistakes 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.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel; Myra Noveck from Jerusalem; and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.