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Israeli hit squad dressed as medics raids West Bank hospital in undercover operation

Israeli forces have killed three Palestinian militants in an undercover raid on a hospital in the occupied West Bank – stoking fears of an escalation in violence.

CCTV showed members of a border police counterterrorism unit and those from Israeli security forces, known as the Shin Bet, entering the Ibn Sina Hospital on the outskirts of a refugee camp in the city of Jenin, some disguised as medics or in women’s clothes. Around a dozen agents, wearing different types of civilian clothing could be identified, most carrying machine guns.

According to Israeli media, the forces entered the third floor of the hospital and shot three Palestinians with silenced weapons. The whole operation is said to have lasted 10 minutes. Hours later, a bloodied blue hospital pillow pierced by a bullet remained on a bed, while a folding bed nearby was also stained with blood.

The Israeli military said one of those killed had a pistol, and that the incident showed militants were using civilian areas and hospitals as shelters and “human shields”. Israeli forces have long claimed that Palestinian hospitals are used as hideouts by militant groups, primarily in Gaza, and that hospital complexes have been used to store weapons and plan attacks.

Hospital officials and Hamas have previously denied such allegations. The Ministry of Health for the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, accused Israel of carrying out a “new massacre inside hospitals”.

The Israeli military identified one of the men as Mohammad Walid Jalamna, a Hamas member who, it said, was planning an attack inspired by the Hamas-led rampage across Gaza’s border into Israel on 7 October, an attack in which around 1,200 people were killed and another 240 people taken hostage. The military said Jalamna “used the hospital as a hiding place and therefore was neutralised”.

A funeral in the West Bank for one of the Palestinian militants killed in the raid (AFP/Getty)
A funeral in the West Bank for one of the Palestinian militants killed in the raid (AFP/Getty)

The Israeli military also said the two others, the brothers Basel Al-Ghazzawi and Mohammad Al-Ghazzawi, belonged to the Jenin Brigade and the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.

Israel responded to the 7 October attack by launching airstrikes, ground operations and a blockade on Gaza. Health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory say more than 26,000 people have been killed in nearly four months of conflict. Hamas said in a statement that the Israeli army’s “crimes will not go unanswered”.

Tensions have soared in the occupied West Bank since the 7 October attack. More than 370 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops – and armed Israeli settlers – in the West Bank since then, according to the health ministry in Ramallah. Nearly 3,000 Palestinians are said to have been arrested. Palestinians from the West Bank have killed at least 10 Israelis in attacks in the West Bank and Israel in the same period.

Several Western nations, including the US and the UK, have expressed concerns about violence in the West Bank from Israeli settlers amid fears over the spread of violence from Gaza.

“The Israeli military is acting as a militia, not an army,” leading West Bank activist Issa Amro told The Independent. “They’ve done this many times in the West Bank.”

Though rare, there is a precedent for this kind of undercover operation in a hospital. In 2015, Israeli forces pretended to bring a pregnant woman into al-Ahli Hospital, in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, before drawing weapons and killing one man and detaining another, who was accused of a stabbing.

Following Tuesday’s assassination by Israeli forces, crowds filled the streets of Jenin and guns were placed on the bodies of the militants killed as they were paraded in a funeral procession.

A girl holds a makeshift white flag as she walks with other displaced Palestinians fleeing from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP/Getty)
A girl holds a makeshift white flag as she walks with other displaced Palestinians fleeing from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP/Getty)

Israel has faced heavy criticism for raids on hospitals inside Gaza from aid agencies and parts of the international community. They have treated thousands of Palestinians wounded in the war as well as providing critical shelter for displaced people. More than 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced from their homes, according to the UN. Most are now seeking shelter in the south of Gaza.

Israel has mounted a new push in northern Gaza after earlier reporting successes there. Much of Tuesday’s fighting in Gaza was focused on the Beach refugee camp and near al-Shifa Hospital, residents told Reuters. Israeli tanks broke into one shelter site and soldiers rounded up dozens of men. The fighting caused more people to flee within Gaza City and to the south towards Deir al-Balah in the centre of Gaza.

In the south, Israeli forces kept up pressure in Khan Younis, the largest city in the southern half of Gaza, maintaining their encirclement of the city’s two main hospitals. The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli tanks were firing near al-Amal Hospital and a Red Crescent office in Khan Younis, killing one person and wounding nine. It later said that displaced people and Red Crescent teams “are being demanded to evacuate the building under the threat of arms”. An Israeli military spokesperson denied forces were storming the hospital.

It comes as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his insistence that Israeli forces will keep going in Gaza until they achieve “absolute victory” over Hamas, denying reports of a possible ceasefire deal. Speaking at an event in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said: “We will not end this war without achieving all of our goals.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group had received a ceasefire proposal put forward after talks in Paris. Haniyeh said he would study the plan and visit Cairo to discuss it. The Paris talks had involved the director of the CIA, Qatar’s prime minister, the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service and the head of Egyptian intelligence. Qatar, the US and Egypt have been heavily involved in mediation efforts and a week-long ceasefire in November led to the release of more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for more than 200 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails.

But Mr Netanyahu, referring to Hamas’s main demands that prisoners be released as part of any hostage-release or truce deal, said: “We will not withdraw the Israeli military from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists.”

Mr Netanyahu’s hardline rhetoric has sparked frustration in Washington, Israel’s staunchest ally. The prime minister has also pushed back against the US push for a two-state solution, with Palestinians wanting the occupied West Bank and Gaza as part of any future state. That is long-standing US and UK foreign policy, with foreign secretary David Cameron suggesting the UK is ready to bring forward the moment when it formally recognises a Palestinian state – not as part of any final peace agreement, but during the negotiations themselves.

Before starting a fourth trip to the Middle East since being appointed foreign secretary in November, Lord Cameron said: “As that happens, we – with allies – will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations.”

“That could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible,” he added.

The formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the UK would be a landmark event and Lord Cameron’s comments were called a “significant” moment by the Palestinian ambassador to Britain.

A spokesperson for the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said of Lord Cameron’s remarks: “We’ve always been clear that we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time it best serves the cause of peace and we are committed to the two-state solution.”