Israel’s military launched a major offensive on Tuesday to retake the West Bank, with the goal of destroying a Palestinian refugee camp.
The Israeli army said it had taken control of al-Quds, the last major Palestinian refugee outpost in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and has now closed in on the camp, which is home to tens of thousands of Palestinians.
A senior army official told The Associated Press that the operation was meant to seize al-Tabaqa, the largest refugee camp in the area, which lies near the border with Syria.
The military said it was also planning to expand its control over the Gaza Strip and the West bank, which have been under the control of Hamas.
“The army is trying to make sure that al-quds will not be able to be rebuilt, and that’s why we’re trying to open the gates of al Quds to the international community,” Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, said at a briefing on Tuesday.
“We are determined to take control of the entire West Bank.
We are going to wipe it out.
The battle for al-tabaqa is about taking control of every inch of this area.”
The offensive was a major step toward ending a two-decade-long Israeli campaign of terror that has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and captured Israeli civilians.
In 2014, the army struck a deal with Hamas to turn over some of its captured territory, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, to Israel.
Israel withdrew from the territories, but Gaza has not been fully occupied by Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs Gaza, has long resisted Israel’s efforts to regain control over Gaza.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported that Israel had opened a military corridor to Gaza through the Jordan Valley.
The move, which also included the closure of the Gaza border, marked the first time Israel had used military force in the Palestinian territories since the end of the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Palestinians, who have long called for a two state solution to the conflict, also welcomed the move.
“It’s a step toward bringing peace to the West-Palestine region, and a step to restore security to the Palestinian people,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The New York Times in a statement.
“This is a historic step in the right direction.”
Palestinians say the closure is part of a wider Israeli plan to push Palestinians out of the West.
In the West, a growing number of Israelis are turning their backs on the peace process and saying that they will never accept a two way agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Ma’an.
The news agency also reported that Israeli forces had opened fire at Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, wounding at least two people.
On Monday, Israeli troops killed at least five Palestinians and wounded dozens more after they clashed with protesters in the southern Israeli city of Hebron.
Israel’s army said at the time that the clashes took place in the northern city of Ramallah.
Israel launched its first military offensive on Monday in response to a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
According to Maa’an, at least 25 Palestinians were killed in the West out of a total of more than 500 Palestinians killed since the start of the current conflict in July.
The AP contributed to this report.