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JENIN: Israeli forces in a West Bank raid killed nine Palestinians Thursday, said officials in the occupied territory, while the Israeli military said troops traded fire with Palestinians during a “counterterrorism operation”.

The Palestinian health ministry accused Israeli forces of deliberately firing tear gas inside a hospital’s paediatric ward, leaving children choking — a claim denied by an army spokesman who added that gas may have drifted into the clinic through a window. The bloodiest day in the West Bank in years erupted during a raid on the crowded refugee camp in the northern city of Jenin, where gunshots rang through the streets and smoke billowed from burning street barricades.

The Palestinian health ministry said the death toll from the clashes rose to “nine martyrs” including a woman, and that 20 people were wounded before the Israeli forces withdrew mid-morning.

The military said Israeli forces came under fire during a “counterterrorism operation to apprehend an Islamic Jihad terror squad”, whose members they blamed for past attacks, and that they had shot several enemy combatants.

Since its records began in 2005, the United Nations has never recorded such a high death toll in a single operation in the West Bank.

Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila charged that “occupation forces stormed Jenin Government Hospital and intentionally fired tear gas canisters at the paediatric department in the hospital”.

Israel’s army denied the forces entered the hospital. “But the activity was not far away from the hospital and it is possible some tear gas entered through an open window,” a spokesman told AFP.

The health minister described the situation in the crowded refugee camp as “critical” and said Israeli forces were for some time preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded.

Jenin deputy governor Kamal Abu al-Rub told AFP that residents were living in a “real state of war” and charged that “the Israeli army is destroying everything and shooting at everything that moves”.

The military said the incursion targeted Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad militant group who were allegedly behind attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

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