Jenin refugee camp housed about 13,000 people, most of whom had come to the West Bank from Jordan after the formation of the Palestinian Authority. The entire camp is about 600 meters long and forms a part of the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank (Samaria). During the Second Intifada, Jenin became a central base for terror groups and terror attacks mounted by several organizations, notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the National and Islamic Front formed by Marwan Barghouti and the Hamas. At least 23 successful suicide attacks and 5 or 6 more that were thwarted originated in Jenin. The attacks were aimed mostly at Northern Israel - Afula, Nahariya, Haifa, Umm el Fahm, but on March 21, 2002 terrorists originating in Jenin launched a suicide attack in Jerusalem and on March 30, 2002 they were responsible for a suicide attack in Tel Aviv.
About 1000 IDF troops entered Jenin refugee camp in three directions on April 2, after repeatedly calling on all civilians to leave. The number of civilians who answered this call was not known, so soldiers had no idea how many were left in the camp. This became a factor in combat precautions taken to reduce civilian casualties. According to later estimates, between 1,300 and 4,000 people remained in the camp.
The attack, which had been postponed for 24 hours by rain, was led by soldiers of the Fifth Infantry Brigade, which had not been trained in house to house combat and had just experienced a change of commander. It was soon evident that the entire camp was booby trapped, often with huge bombs. Islamic Jihad terrorist Tabaat Mardawi claimed later that Palestinian fighters had planted "between 1,000 and 2,000 bombs and booby traps" throughout the camp. Some of the bombs weighed over 100 KG. A bulldozer sent down the main street of Jenin detonated 124 such bombs in about 3/4 of a mile.
During the fighting, IDF bulldozers leveled an area of about 100 X 200 meters centered around the Hawashin neighborhood where the terrorists had holed up in booby trapped houses. This relatively small area was shown in aerial photos by certain media outlets as if it was the entire Jenin camp.