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Broken walls, crushed cars: Jenin assesses damage of Israeli raid

The Israeli army Wednesday declared the end of a two-day military operation in the Jenin area
— Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

As Israeli forces pulled out of Jenin, its Palestinian residents came back to assess the devastation: trashed homes, charred cars and roads strewn with rubble, glass and bullet casings.

The West Bank city and militant stronghold has endured violence before, but the latest offensive was the heaviest in years, with air strikes hitting buildings and armoured bulldozers ripping up streets.

Siham al-Naaja, 53, returned to her apartment in the Jenin refugee camp Wednesday to find the windows smashed, furniture upturned, pictures ripped off walls and belongings scattered across the floor.

"There's no electricity, there's no water, there's nothing," she said about the city where many buildings were pockmarked from the gunshots.

Naaja was among at least 3,000 people who fled after Israel launched its raid Monday in the crowded neighbourhood amid gunfights with Palestinian militants.

Children sit amid the rubble and broken furniture of a destroyed flat in Jenin

She sadly pointed to her upturned household and a broken plastic toy on the floor, and charged that the Israeli forces had stolen the family's money and gold.

The army did not immediately respond to AFP's request to comment on her allegations.

Jenin's refugee camp -- a small and densely populated urban area -- houses Palestinians, and their descendants, who fled during the conflict that erupted when Israel was created in 1948.

They are banned from returning to their original homes while Palestinian aspirations for an independent state appear as remote as ever after years of stalled peace efforts.

Men sit before a wall displaying pictures of killed Palestinians in Jenin

Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War, said its raid on Jenin was necessary to target Palestinian militants and their arms depots and other infrastructure.

The fighting claimed the lives of 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier.

Many Palestinians argue they have the right to defend themselves against an occupying power, and posters and murals on Jenin's walls hail many of the "martyrs" who have fallen in the conflict.

- Psychological impact -

Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters from an armoured vehicle during the military operation

In the refugee camp, 18-year-old Mahdi Jalysa was smoking a cigarette and pointed to a food bag with Hebrew writing on it, left behind by the soldiers.

"The army entered the camp, and the first thing they did was (launch) air strikes," he said. "I was on the ground floor."

Local people were caught by surprise, he recounted, adding that at the time "we had no food".

Nearby rubble from damaged buildings was piled up on roads alongside torn-down power cables and streaks of fuel.

A man checks a wrecked car in the aftermath of the military operation in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on July 5, 2023

Crouching beside one of the many crushed cars, a man tried to salvage belongings from the jammed trunk of what he said was his brother's vehicle.

A few streets away, a woman tossed debris onto a pile near her home where she said an Israeli air strike had hit. The walls of the building opposite were scorched black.

Piles of nappies, food and other items covered the courtyards of hospitals where dozens of wounded Palestinians were treated.

As thousands fled the camp during the flare-up, residents of nearby areas took many of them in.

People carry bags of food and basic supplies handed out by a local organization

At one aid distribution point inside the camp, Khadar Masalhah, 35, organised food and other donations.

The goodwill helps, he said, but he predicted the deadly raid would have a lasting impact.

"The damage includes the physical side and the psychological side, especially for the children and the elderly," he said.

He worried especially about the impact the terrifying experience has had on "the little kids".

"For two whole days," he said, "they were denied having a smile on their face."