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13 Israeli soldiers killed in apparent ambush

'Violent resistance' exceeds other incidents, general says

Thirteen IDF soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Jenin.
Thirteen IDF soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Jenin.  

JENIN, West Bank (CNN) -- Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed and seven were wounded Tuesday in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an ambush in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin.

It was the highest Israeli military death toll in a single incident since the current wave of Israeli-Palestinian fighting began in September 2000, according to the IDF.

The soldiers, primarily reservists, were patrolling in a narrow alley when a device exploded between them, said a soldier wounded in the attack.

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"I don't know where it came from, and immediately, there was another bomb," Ron Drori, who was wounded in the attack, told Ha'aretz Daily. "Almost immediately, they started firing on us from all directions."

Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey said the soldiers were from two separate forces operating in the area. One of the forces was hit by boobytrap explosives and a suicide bomber. Meanwhile, about 20 gunmen opened fire on the second force, which was in a nearby courtyard.

"It was a simultaneous attack, and immediately most of the soldiers were hit and fell down. The snipers, the Palestinian terrorists, actually shot them later, one by one," Kitrey said.

Palestinian gunmen dragged "two or three of the bodies to a neighboring house" that had been heavily damaged in the various explosions, Kitrey said. The house then crumbled, he said.

Palestinians sources blamed the IDF for the deaths. The troops were killed when forces mistakenly set off a blast inside a building without knowing Israeli troops were inside, sources said.

Refugees who have fled the fighting in Jenin said they believe at least 150 Palestinians had been killed there.

"We're being shelled and bombed and assassinated and killed. Our homes are being destroyed, our children traumatized. Our livelihoods, our institutions, our infrastructure totally demolished," said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi.

Kitrey said Israeli forces faced hundreds of Palestinian gunmen in Jenin and "more than 1,000 explosive charges." He said hundreds of grenades were tossed at Israeli troops, and soldiers were under constant fire from machine guns and Kalashnikov assault rifles in narrow alleys.

By the end of the day, he said, the Palestinian militants' numbers had been reduced to a few dozen. Kitrey said Israeli troops "offered them fair surrender, to give up their weaponry" but they refused.

"The degree of violent resistance that we faced there was to a degree beyond our expectations -- probably the most bitter, harsh resistance that we faced from all other towns and cities," said Kitrey.

After the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Israeli campaign in the West Bank will continue until Palestinian militias are defeated.

"It was a difficult day," Sharon said. "This battle is a battle for survival of the Jewish people, for survival of the state of Israel."

An estimated 150 Palestinians and 22 Israeli soldiers -- including the 13 killed Tuesday -- have died in Jenin since the Israeli incursion there began April 2. There was no independent confirmation of that figure, which is a general estimate based on reports from Palestinian officials, Israeli media and eyewitnesses.




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