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Israel's operation against militants in a refugee camp is in its 2nd day


Residents of a refugee camp are spending this week in the midst of a military operation. Israel sent troops and drones into the camp of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. For decades, Jenin's been home to Palestinians displaced from Israel during its War of Independence. Israel says the camp is also a base for militants, which is why Israeli troops opened fire in an operation that has so far left at least 10 Palestinians dead.


NOWRAS: You see? You can hear, I think, yes?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).


SCHMITZ: NPR's Daniel Estrin recorded that call and joins us now from Tel Aviv. Daniel, that was a chilling tape there that we heard. Who were you speaking to there?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: That's a nurse in the Jenin government hospital. He gave me his first name, Nowras. And he says that everyone in the hospital has been hearing a lot of that lately - Israeli army shooting - 'cause the hospital is close to the camp where troops are operating. I spoke to the hospital director, who says medical teams have not gone home for about 36 hours straight. They're treating people of all ages, mostly with tear gas inhalation wounds. But a lot of those with critical injuries are mostly young men, 15 to 25 years old, he said. They have come in with head, neck, chest wounds from bullets and also from Israel's drone airstrikes. And Israel has also destroyed many roads in the area. This is what the hospital director told me, Dr. Wissam Bakr.

WISSAM BAKR: One road is open, but the difficulty and entrance to the camp for the ambulances because the roads - all destroyed.

ESTRIN: Now, the Israeli army does acknowledge that only one road is usable now for ambulances. The army says it destroyed many roads because they had intelligence that the roads were booby-trapped. But we are hearing that medics are actually walking, by foot, into the camp to help.

SCHMITZ: Wow. Besides the hospital, what about life inside the Jenin refugee camp because about 10- to 15,000 people live there, right?

ESTRIN: Yeah. And the estimates are even more than that. I mean, we are hearing from the U.N. that up to 6,000 Palestinians fled the camp, which could be about a quarter of the camp's population. We are hearing about hotels receiving people fleeing, even a nearby church opening its doors. The army operation has left a lot of infrastructure damaged. Most of the camp does not have water or electricity, and so residents were describing just really unbearable heat, no AC at home, no water to flush toilets.

Now, the Palestinian Authority is angry at the U.S. because they're saying that the U.S. is not trying to stop Israel's incursion. The State Department put out a statement calling for civilian lives to be protected, but basically saying the U.S. supports Israel protecting its people against terrorist groups. And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even attended the U.S. embassy's Fourth of July party and, on stage, praised the operation.

SCHMITZ: That's a stark contrast between him at a Fourth of July party and what's happening at this refugee camp.


SCHMITZ: What's Israel's endgame here?

ESTRIN: Well, the army told me that the troops may need about one to three more days to go after explosive factories. And they do think that many militants fled the camp, which means that, if they are still at large, they may carry out reprisal attacks after all this is over. Now, there's been a Palestinian car-ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv. Hamas has claimed responsibility for that, and we'll have to see if it draws an Israeli response. This has been already a very violent year. At least 130 Palestinians have been killed - about 24 people killed on the Israeli side. And you know what? Many Israeli military experts are looking at this and saying this operation cannot solve the deeper problems - West Bank settler violence against Palestinians, young Palestinians turning increasingly to weapons, no horizon for a better life for Palestinians under occupation.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks for your reporting.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. 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.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.