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Israeli airstrikes are targeting Palestinians in the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp


Since the attack launched by Hamas from Gaza earlier this month, Israel's raids on the occupied West Bank have become more frequent and intense. Israel says it's targeting militants. Palestinian officials say more than 100 people have died. Last week, an Israeli airstrike hit the northern city of Jenin, a rare occurrence for the West Bank. NPR's Becky Sullivan reports.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The first place we go in Jenin is the home of the Damaj family. Their home is built right up next to the Al-Ansar Mosque, the target of the Israeli airstrike last week. Noor Damaj gives me a tour, pointing out the rubble.

NOOR DAMAJ: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: We're in the Jenin refugee camp - refugees as in Palestinian refugees from the conflict in 1948 around the founding of the State of Israel. The camp is a densely populated, windy maze of alleys on a hillside.

DAMAJ: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: Last Sunday, Damaj was upstairs above his uncle's home, drinking tea with some relatives, when the airstrike hit the mosque next door.

DAMAJ: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: There was so much dust they could barely see, he says. They ran downstairs and found the mosque destroyed and the doors to their house blocked in by all the rubble.

DAMAJ: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: It took an hour and a half to get inside, he said. No one in the family was hurt, but their house is messed up - windows shattered, walls partially collapsed. His Aunt Itaf says the Israelis must have known the family lived there.

ITAF: (Through interpreter) I am sure their planes have taken pictures of us. I am sure they know that there are civilians living next to the mosque.

SULLIVAN: Jenin has long been a hotbed for Palestinian militant resistance. Israel has periodically done raids here over the years, including a major one back in July, when 12 Palestinians were killed. This week, things have picked up.

And I'm inside the mosque now. There's rubble everywhere, dust everywhere. Israelis say there were tunnels that were used by Palestinian militants to store arms and weapons.

Two people were killed in this airstrike, according to Palestinian officials. Then on Wednesday, an Israeli drone attack killed four people here. And on Friday, Palestinian officials say there was yet another raid and at least one more death. Israel says it only targets militants and that its actions are necessary to stamp out armed resistance. Around the corner from the mosque lives Ma'in Zakarneh. He was at home for the airstrike, too.

MA'IN ZAKARNEH: (Speaking Arabic, vocalizing).

SULLIVAN: After the strike, he says, he ran to gather up his wife and their three young daughters.

ZAKARNEH: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: And they raced to leave Jenin for the night, going to stay with family out of town, feeling all the while like they were about to die.

ZAKARNEH: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: Back in July, Zakarneh told NPR he wanted to move to the U.S. to escape from this violence, since his wife and one of their daughters are American citizens. Their case hasn't gone anywhere yet. Now, he says, it feels even more urgent. His wife, Yasmin, sent an email to the State Department after the airstrike, begging for their case to be considered.

YASMIN: We are not living in safe and peace.

SULLIVAN: Zakarneh says he has a good job, a nice house, a family to care for, but not everybody in the refugee camp has a life like that. Of the 15,000 or so people who live here, a lot of them are young and poor and unemployed.

ZAKARNEH: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: They have nothing to do with their lives, Zakarneh says, so it's easy to persuade them to do anything.

ZAKARNEH: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: Our last stop is the spot of the Israeli drone attack on Wednesday, just outside a cemetery.

One, two, three. They were all standing right there?

The three men who were killed, two teenagers and a 20-year-old, we're told, were holding homemade explosives. That's according to both Israeli security forces and witnesses here. An Israeli drone spotted them and killed them. There are still bloodstains on the ground. The cemetery where they died is for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. But that cemetery is full, so their fresh graves are a block or so away.

TARYK: (Speaking Arabic).

SULLIVAN: A 13-year-old boy named Taryk points out the graves for us. They were friends of his brother's, he says.

TARYK: (Through interpreter) I'm very sad because most of the friends have gone.

SULLIVAN: He wouldn't have held the homemade explosives, Taryk says. But when we ask, what is his future? - he has only one answer.

TARYK: (Through interpreter) I'm going to be a freedom fighter.

SULLIVAN: Becky Sullivan, NPR News, Jenin, the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.

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