An Israeli raid into the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank turned deadly on Monday, with at least five Palestinians killed in a gun battle, and Israeli helicopter gunships were sent into the area for the first time in decades to secure forces trying to extricate armored vehicles that had been disabled by a powerful roadside bomb.
The five people killed in the armed clashes around Jenin included a 15-year-old boy, and dozens more Palestinians were wounded, according to Palestinian health officials.
Eight members of the Israeli security forces were also wounded in the fighting, which broke out after a raid was launched to arrest two Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity, the Israeli military said.
The battle on Monday in and around Jenin, long a center of Palestinian militancy and the target of frequent Israeli raids, was unusually intense, according to Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a spokesman for the Israeli military. That prompted the Israeli forces to deploy helicopter gunships in support of ground troops battling the militants, he said.
At least one powerful explosive device laid by Palestinian militants and other fire disabled several Israeli armored vehicles in a village near Jenin at around 7 a.m. on Monday, complicating what had started out as an arrest raid, the military said.
The Israeli forces then called in Apache combat helicopters that fired toward Palestinian gunmen to try to clear the zone as additional forces worked under fire to extricate the damaged vehicles, the military said. Experts said that was probably the first such use of helicopter gunships in the occupied West Bank since the second Palestinian uprising about 20 years ago.
Colonel Hecht said that the helicopter had fired at open areas to keep the Palestinian gunmen at a distance and that the army’s evacuation efforts were continuing amid exchanges of fire more than five hours after the vehicles were hit. The troops eventually left the area at about 2.30 p.m., according to military officials.
The pre-dawn raid began as a routine operation to arrest the two Palestinian suspects, immediately setting off heavy clashes between the Israeli forces and gunmen in the area, the military said. Explosive devices were hurled at the forces who responded with live fire, resulting in casualties, it added.
The militant group Islamic Jihad said that two of the people killed were its members.
As the Israeli forces were heading out of Jenin, a powerful roadside bomb exploded, targeting the vulnerable underside of a Panther armored vehicle, Colonel Hecht said, in a scene that some Israeli analysts described as reminiscent of the monthlong war that Israel fought in southern Lebanon in 2006 against the Iranian-backed militant organization Hezbollah.
A statement from a local branch of the military wing of the Islamist militant group Hamas, based in the Jenin refugee camp, praised the Palestinian fighters for being able “to ambush a Zionist force” in the camp. The Israeli forces were “showered with a barrage of explosive devices, followed by heavy showers of blessed bullets,” the statement added.
Referring to the clashes, a senior Palestinian Authority official, Hussein al-Sheikh, tried to forge some semblance of unity between the West Bank-based authority and its rival Hamas, which controls the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza.
“A fierce and open war is being waged against the Palestinian people politically, security-wise and economically by the occupation forces,” Mr. al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter while the fighting was still underway on Monday, adding, “We are in the midst of a comprehensive battle on all fronts that requires the unity of our people in the face of this aggression.”
Tzachi Hanegbi, director of Israel’s National Security Council, said that the roadside devices used in the Jenin area were a familiar hazard for soldiers carrying out raids. “Until now, there have been devices that were detonated and happily, until now, did not cause casualties,” he told the Israeli public broadcaster Kan.
The raid on Monday came midway through a particularly deadly year for Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli military raids have increased over the last year along with the rise of local, armed Palestinian groups that have carried out shooting attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and that generally act independently of the established and more disciplined Palestinian organizations.
About 130 Palestinians have been killed this year, many of them during gun battles between the Israeli Army and armed Palestinian groups, but also civilians caught in the crossfire. About 25 Israelis have been killed in attacks carried out by Arab assailants.
A Palestinian cameraman was among those injured on Monday, according to Palestinian news reports, which said that a group of journalists had come under fire while covering the army raid from a rooftop.
A Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was fatally shot during an Israeli military raid in Jenin 13 months ago. Several investigations concluded that she was probably killed by an Israeli soldier.
Hiba Yazbek and Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.