A Palestinian elder mourns the nine killed during an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp, on January 26, 2023. Photo Afp

Israeli forces killed at least nine Palestinians on Thursday, including a 60-year-old woman, and wounded several others during a raid in a troubled area of ​​the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said, in one of the deadliest days of recent years in the territory.

The incident occurred in what Palestinian officials described as a vicious, broad daylight operation in the Jenin refugee camp, an insurgent stronghold in the West Bank that has been the scene of almost daily detention raids by Palestinians for nearly a year. the Israeli forces.

The conflict escalated this month, with 29 Palestinians killed since the start of the year.

It was not immediately clear how many of those killed Thursday were affiliated with armed groups.

The clashes come weeks after a pledge by the new Israeli government, the most conservative in its history, to take a tougher stance against the Palestinians and step up settlement construction on land the Palestinians claim for their future state.

The violence also occurs days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit the region and press for more measures to improve Palestinian lives.

Israel's military explained that it carried out the unusual daytime operation because it received intelligence about an insurgent group linked to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has strong supporters in the field, that was poised to carry out imminent attacks against Israelis.

A firefight ensued during which the extremists were attacked, he added.

At least one of the dead was identified as a Palestinian insurgent.

Images released by Palestinian media showed the charred exterior walls of a two-story building and concrete blocks and other rubble strewn across a street.

The army indicated that it entered the building where the suspects were to detonate the explosives that, according to their account, they were using.

According to the Palestinian Minister of Health, May Al-Kaila, the parademics had trouble reaching the wounded due to the clashes.

In addition, she accused the army of firing tear gas into the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing minors to suffocate.

Video from the hospital showed women carrying children from rooms to the center hallway.

The army said the substance was likely to have come from nearby disturbances.

The Jenin hospital identified the dead woman as Magda Obaid.

The Palestinian ministry had earlier identified one of the victims as 24-year-old Saeb Azriqi, who was taken to a hospital in critical condition after being shot and died from her wounds.

For its part, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed militia linked to Fatah, the secular party that controls the Palestinian Authority, said one of the dead, Izz al-Din Salahat, was a fighter.

At least 20 more people were injured, the ministry added.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas declared three days of mourning and ordered flags to fly at half mast.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, condemned the violence and called on the international community to speak out against it.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the army prevented medical teams from evacuating the wounded and fired tear gas that leaked into the government hospital, hitting minors and interrupting surgeries.

The army indicated that its troops blocked roads to facilitate its operation, which could have complicated the work of rescuers.

"We call on the international community to help the Palestinians against this ultra-right government and to protect our citizens," he said.

The UN envoy for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, expressed "deep alarm and saddened" by the violence and called for calm.

There were expressions of condemnation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and from Turkey, which recently restored diplomatic relations with Israel, from neighboring Jordan and from the Hamas extremist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

The Islamic Jihad branch in the coastal enclave has repeatedly clashed with Israel, most recently in a bitter three-day episode last summer that left dozens of Palestinians dead and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

In the past, tensions over violence in the West Bank have spilled over into Gaza.

"The response of the resistance to what has happened today in the Jenin countryside will not be long in coming," said Saleh Arouri, a senior Hamas official.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been rising since Israel launched incursions last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks on Israelis that killed 19 people.

Another round of attacks at the end of the year brought the death toll to 30.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in 2022, according to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem, making last year the deadliest since 2004.

According to Israel, most of the Palestinians killed were insurgents.

But among the victims there are young people who threw stones in protest against the searches, among others.

So far in 2023, not counting Thursday, a third of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers or civilians were linked to armed groups.

Israel says the operations are aimed at dismantling insurgent networks and thwarting new attacks, but the Palestinians see them as entrenching Israel's 55-year occupation of the territories where they want to establish their future state.

Israeli forces captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — the territories claimed by the Palestinians for their future state — in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel's new far-right government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and backed by ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has vowed to make West Bank settlement expansion one of its top priorities and has announced punitive measures against Palestinians for pressure the highest judicial body of the United Nations to rule on the Israeli occupation.

(With information from AP)