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Abbas vows to rebuild Jenin camp after deadly Israeli raid

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas made a landmark visit to the Jenin camp, in the north of the occupied West Bank, a week after the largest Israeli raid there in years
— Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas vowed to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp during a rare and brief visit Wednesday, a week after a deadly Israeli raid destroyed much of the camp in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas, 87, hailed the Jenin camp as an "icon of struggle" during his first trip to the area in more than a decade, a period during which armed groups have gained popular support at the expense of his Palestinian Authority.

The two-day Israeli raid last week was the largest such operation in years, involving hundreds of troops, drone strikes and armoured bulldozers. It killed 12 Palestinians including children and militants from a local armed group the Jenin Brigades.

One Israeli soldier was also killed during the operation.

Israel views the densely-populated urban area, a stronghold of militant groups that also include Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as a "terrorism hub" and has launched frequent armed raids there since early last year.

Abbas's convoy passes through the Jenin camp at the end of the visit

Popular discontent with the PA, which cooperates with Israel on security, has been simmering in Jenin. Crowds last week heckled several visiting top officials of Abbas's Fatah party, including deputy chairman Mahmoud Aloul.

On Wednesday, Abbas expressed determination to back Jenin's reconstruction and security, describing the camp as an "icon of steadfastness and struggle", in a short address to cheering supporters.

"We have come to say that we are one authority, one state, one law," Abbas said, warning against anyone who "tampers with the unity and security of our people".

Speaking in front of a restaurant that was destroyed in last week's Israeli raid, Abbas vowed to oversee the reconstruction of the camp and the wider city to restore it "to what it was, or even better".

- 'Pride and honour' -

Concluding his visit, Abbas laid a wreath on the graves of Palestinians who lost their lives in recent Israeli raids.

A Palestinian presidential guardsman kisses the head of a boy as they sit by the graves of Palestinians killed in the recent Israeli raid on Jenin camp

A number of Arab countries have announced aid for the camp after last week's offensive.

Ahead of Abbas's arrival, hundreds of soldiers from the presidential guard patrolled the camp's streets, an AFP journalist said, and snipers were positioned on rooftops.

His visit "is a strong and important message... that he stands with the Palestinian people in their resistance to the occupation," Atta Abu Rumaila, Fatah's secretary-general in the camp, told AFP.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and its forces regularly launch raids on Palestinian cities.


Abbas travelled by helicopter from Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, for the visit which lasted barely an hour.

The Palestinian president was flanked by potential successors, including Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Hussein al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Abbas used his speech to issue a veiled threat at armed groups "undermining" Palestinian security.

"There will be one authority and one security force. Anyone who seeks to undermine its unity and security will face the consequences... Any hand that reaches out to harm the people and their stability shall be cut off," he said.

Prior to Abbas's arrival, a group of children were chanting "Katiba, Katiba, Katiba" at the camp in support of local armed group the Jenin Brigades.

A Palestinian officer stands guard during the visit

Alaa Washahi, 27, speaking after Abbas's departure, defended the militants.

"The Jenin Brigades are our pride and honour... their presence is part of our existence," said the camp resident.

"The truth is we have suffered from the negligence of (Palestinian) officials. This is what the president must see with his own eyes."

- Deteriorating security -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas recites a prayer as he lays a wreath of flowers by the graves of Palestinians killed in recent Israeli military raids on the Jenin camp

The Jenin camp was established in 1953 to house some of those among the 760,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948 when Israel was created, an event Palestinians call the "Nakba" or "catastrophe".

Over time, the camp's original tents have been replaced with concrete buildings, and it now resembles an urban neighbourhood.

The camp, which houses about 18,000 people, was also a hotbed of fighting during the second "intifada" or uprising of the early 2000s.

Abbas last visited Jenin in 2012

Over the past 18 months, the security situation in the camp has deteriorated with repeated Israeli raids, and the Palestinian Authority has little real presence there.

Abbas last visited Jenin in 2012 but did not tour the camp at the time.

While the PA remains somewhat present in the city, it has largely abandoned the camp to groups such as the Jenin Brigades, which Israel alleges is backed by Iran.