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Is Jericho becoming a new center of Palestinian terrorism?

Existence of the new terrorist group in Jericho is likely to have detrimental effects on the city's local tourism industry

IDF raid on a Palestinian terrorist cell in Jericho in February (Photo: IDF Spokesperson Unit)

Jericho, once a “sleepy” town in the midst of an increasingly volatile West Bank, looks like it could become embroiled in ongoing violence and gunfire after the Aqabat Jaber Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of the city, was used to house five Hamas terrorists.

The five – who called themselves the Aqabat Jaber Camp Battalion – were killed during an Israeli raid on the refugee camp. They were members of the Hamas terrorist organization’s Izzuddin al-Qassam wing. 

Hamas identified them as Malek Lafi, 22, Ra’fat Oweidat, 21, Ibrahim Oweidat, 27, Thaer Oweidat, 28, and Adham Oweidat, 22, and said it would take revenge for their deaths. 

On Jan. 28, two of the men were involved in a shooting attack on an Israeli café at Israel’s Almog Junction, just a few kilometers from Aqabat Jaber camp. Nobody was hurt in the attack but, since then, the Israel Defense Forces have imposed strict security measures in the Jericho area. 

The group was the first of its kind in Jericho and is similar to new terrorist groups that have sprung into existence in the Samaria over the past year, including the Jenin Battalion, the Nablus Battalion and the Balata Refugee Camp Battalion, as well as the Lions’ Den and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

The group from Jericho, however, consisted of members of Hamas, whereas the other groups are mostly comprised of members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group and the Fatah party, which is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The existence of the new terrorist group in Jericho is likely to have detrimental effects on Jericho’s local tourism industry, which has been growing and relies mainly on Arab Israelis and Palestinian Arab families, who have either bought villas in the Jericho area or are renting them out for holidays. 

“The streets of Jericho were empty after the shooting operation [at Almog Junction],” a Jerusalem resident who owns two villas in Jericho told the Jerusalem Post. “Many people couldn’t go to Jericho because of the Israeli checkpoints. People rent the villas for private events, including birthday parties and weddings.”

Residents and visitors are now concerned that the ongoing gun violence and general anarchy that reigns in Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank will spread to Jericho, especially following Hamas’ vow to seek revenge for the five terrorists killed in the Israeli raid. 

Shortly after the operation, Hamas said the “confrontation with the enemy confirms once again that our people are on the path of resistance and liberation and won’t be intimidated by the crimes of the occupation.” 

Abbas recently stopped all security coordination with Israel following an Israeli arrest operation in the Jenin refugee camp that resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians, mainly terrorists, who had opened fire on the security forces. Despite receiving word from Israel ahead of time about the operation, the PA condemned the warning, calling out the Israeli raid as a “new crime.” 

Just hours before the latest raid, Abbas chaired a meeting with the commanders of the PA’s security forces about the ongoing violence in the West Bank. According to the Jerusalem Post, Abbas confirmed that he was cutting off security coordination with Israel and told his security services “to assume their role in preserving the rule of law, public security and civil peace.”

Despite similar, repeated instructions from Abbas in recent months, his security forces have failed to do anything about the terrorist groups and gunmen, causing the ongoing violence and shootings in Jenin and Nablus, especially against Israeli forces and civilians. 

According to Jerusalem Post analyst Khaled Abu Toameh, “There’s no reason whatsoever to think that these security forces will now take meaningful measures to stop Jericho from joining Jenin and Nablus as terror hubs in the West Bank.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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