Security officials were concerned Thursday that terror groups in the Gaza Strip could launch rockets at Israel after two senior terrorists were killed in overnight clashes in the West Bank, including a top Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) field commander, Hebrew media reported.
The two fighters were killed in heavy clashes with Israeli troops that broke out during a predawn arrest raid near the northern West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp. Palestinian media reported that as many as 20 other people were wounded.
Both PIJ and the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip threatened to hit back over the deaths.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Ezz El Din said in a statement that the “massacre” of people and deaths of its fighters in Jenin “will not pass without a response.”
Hamas declared a general strike in the camp and also threatened to take action.
Both the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 13 quoted unnamed security officials saying that Israel was preparing for the possibility of rocket fire.
The dead were identified as Mohammed Ayman Saadi from PIJ and Na’im Zubeidi from the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, although the various armed factions are known to work together in Jenin against the IDF.
Over the past year, the PIJ has launched rockets at Israel in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.
Earlier this month, the IDF bombed targets in the Gaza Strip in response to four rockets that were fired at Israel. That rocket fire came hours after a PIJ commander Farouk Salameh was killed during an Israeli military operation in Jenin.
In August, Israel clashed with PIJ in a three-day battle during which the terror group launched some 1,175 rockets at Israeli territory. Fighting erupted after Israel launched strikes on PIJ targets in Gaza in response to what Israeli leaders said was an ongoing “concrete” threat to target Israeli civilians and soldiers in Gaza-border areas. A senior PIJ commander was killed in the initial strikes.
In a joint statement about Thursday’s early-morning raid, the IDF and Shin Bet security agency said that Saadi and Zubeidi were senior terror operatives. Both of the killed gunmen were in their 20s but had already served time in Israeli jails for security offenses.
Saadi was a “prominent PIJ military operative” responsible for a series of shooting attacks against troops, and arming other operatives, under the directions of the PIJ leadership, the statement said.
The statement said Zubeidi was also responsible for numerous shootings at Israeli forces in the West Bank. Palestinian media said Zubeidi was a relative of Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist who masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada and managed to briefly escape from Israeli prison last year.
Tensions have been high in the West Bank over the past year, with the IDF launching a major anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks that have left 31 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the beginning of the year.
The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left more than 150 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.