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Israeli forces attack militants in a crowded Palestinian refugee camp

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With airstrikes and hundreds of troops on the ground, Israeli forces are attacking militants in a crowded Palestinian refugee camp. It's the largest operation of its kind in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in about 15 years. Palestinian health officials say at least eight Palestinians have been killed and scores injured in the crowded Jenin refugee camp. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Tel Aviv. Daniel, will you start by just describing Jenin? It is a refugee camp and also a city.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: That's right. Jenin is a bustling city, but it surrounds the Jenin refugee camp, which is a crowded district of more than 10,000 people. They live in multistory buildings. I've driven through it, and it's really dizzying. You drive through a warren of streets and alleyways. It goes down a hill. It's always been this center of militant activity. But in the last year, we have seen new groupings of younger militants taking root there, battling Israeli troops in the camp with firefights, with even roadside bombs. And so now hundreds of Israeli troops are on the ground there. They're going door to door. They're confiscating weapons. And as you said, drones carried out at least 10 airstrikes today.

SHAPIRO: So what are you hearing from the people who live there about what this has been like?

ESTRIN: Residents have been telling us that the water and electricity have been cut off all day. That is due to extensive damage to infrastructure. We heard from one woman who said her house is hot. The air conditioning has not worked. So there also has not been water to flush the toilets. It's been very hard to keep all the kids from going outside. Israel says it's digging up roads to thwart roadside bombs. The United Nations says that an Israeli bulldozer has actually demolished most of the roads leading to the Jenin camp. And ambulances could only evacuate the wounded through one singular road, which has Israeli army inspections on it.

I spoke to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator on the ground, who told me the Red Cross is trying to negotiate access for ambulances. Palestinian medics are saying that they've evacuated hundreds of families from the camp, but it has been hard for them to move around because of all these destroyed roads.

SHAPIRO: What does Israel say about the reason for these attacks?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel says that its operation in the Jenin camp has - is because Jenin camp has been the main hub for Palestinian militants who have carried out dozens of shootings on Israelis this year. So Israel says it wants to put a stop to this camp being a haven for militants. The army says this operation could go on for another day or two. It claims that no noncombatants have been killed so far. I have not been able to independently confirm that. Palestinian officials say that among those killed have been a 16- and a 17-year-old. But this is Israel significantly escalating its military action after more than a year of violence. We've seen deadly Israeli raids almost daily in West Bank cities. We've seen Palestinian militants carrying out attacks on Israelis as well. This year over 130 Palestinians have been killed and 24 people on the Israeli side killed in Palestinian attacks.

SHAPIRO: American officials have said they're concerned about the growing violence. What are people saying today from the U.S.?

ESTRIN: It's interesting, Ari. The U.S. has not called for de-escalation, which it did just two weeks ago with another Israeli operation in Jenin. A State Department spokesperson says, quote, "We support Israel's security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups." That's a quote from the State Department. And actually, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the U.S. Embassy Fourth of July party today in Jerusalem. He spoke about the operation on stage. He says whoever conspires to murder Israelis will be in jail or in the grave. And just one final word, Ari - he is leading a far-right coalition which has been putting a lot of pressure on him to strike hard after recent Palestinian attacks.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

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.

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Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.