Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?

Special Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?
Thousands attended February’s LEAP 2023 conference in Riyadh, where the biggest names in tech showcased their products and discussed industry trends. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 March 2023
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Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?

Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?
  • Described as a “tipping point” in artificial intelligence, ChatGPT and Bard pose both challenges and opportunities 
  • Arab countries will have to deal with chatbot tools’ potential for destroying jobs and creating new ones

DUBAI/RIYADH: Silicon Valley startup OpenAI caused a sensation when it released ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot tool capable of formulating detailed, human-like answers on a seemingly limitless range of topics. In retrospect, that was just the start. 

Google has since announced its own web tool, Bard, in an apparent bid to compete with the viral success of ChatGPT. Both tools are built on large language models, which are trained on vast troves of data in a way that they can generate impressive responses to user prompts.

Conversations with ChatGPT — GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer — show that the program is capable of explaining complex scientific concepts, writing plays and poetry, composing university dissertations, and even crafting functional lines of computer code. 

Such programs can hold a conversation with any human user, no matter their IT experience or background. They have also written fake scientific reports, convincing enough to fool scientists, and even been used to write a children’s book.

Described by some experts as a “tipping point” in artificial intelligence technology, ChatGPT responds to “natural language questions on any topic and gives in-depth answers that read as if they were written by a human,” according to the World Economic Forum. 




Conversations with ChatGPT — GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer — show that the program is capable of explaining complex scientific concepts. (AFP)

However, the web tools of Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google have raised fears about their potential misuse to spread disinformation, orchestrate sophisticated deep fake scams, cheat in school exams, and even destroy writing jobs, rendering authors, journalists, and marketing professionals redundant. 

How the technology is received, responds and is eventually regulated will be closely watched by several of the Arab Gulf states, many of which have launched their own national strategies for adopting and investing in AI.

Saudi Arabia launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence in October 2020, aimed at making the Kingdom a global leader in the field as it seeks to attract $20 billion in foreign and local investments by 2030. 

The Kingdom also aims to transform its workforce by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists. 

The UAE has likewise made AI investment a top priority, becoming the first nation in the world to appoint a minister of state for artificial intelligence. Omar Sultan Al-Olama took on the brief in October 2017 to spearhead the UAE’s expanding digital economy.

The Middle East is projected to accrue 2 percent of the total global benefits of AI by the end of the decade, equivalent to $320 billion, with AI expected to contribute more than $135.2 billion to the Saudi economy, according to PwC. 





The Ameca humanoid robot
​​​greets visitors at Dubai’s Museum of the Future. (AFP)

Founded in late 2015, OpenAI is led by Sam Altman, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and former president of startup incubator Y Combinator. The firm is best known for its automated creation software GPT-3 for text generation and DALL-E for image generation. 

OpenAI has long counted on financial support from tech industry leaders, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, investor Peter Thiel, and Tesla boss Elon Musk, who served on the start-up’s board until 2018. 

In January this year, multinational tech corporation Microsoft upped its initial 2019 investment in the firm worth $1 billion to $10 billion, meaning the company is now valued at roughly $29 billion.

Google’s core product — online search — is widely thought to be facing its most significant challenge since its launch in 1996. Reports claim the enormous attention being attracted by ChatGPT has spurred Google’s management to declare a “code red” situation for its search business.

ChatGPT is being used to obtain answers to questions many people would previously have searched for on Google’ flagship search tool. Last month, Microsoft announced that the next version of its Bing search engine would be powered by OpenAI. Also on the cards is a new version of the Edge web browser with OpenAI chat tech in a window to help users browse and understand web pages.

Unfortunately for Google, Bard had an embarrassing debut in early February when a video demo of the chatbot showed it giving the wrong answer to a question about the James Webb space telescope.

“ChatGPT is indeed very interesting,” Noaman Sayed, a Dubai-based tech professional and co-founder of the online shopping website DeenSquare, told Arab News. 

“If you look into the past, every innovation and advancement has had discussions raised in relation to concern, whether it was planes, cars, mobiles, the internet, Google, YouTube, social media and more. 

“Looking back, we can all say that these have eventually made not only our lives easier, they are also seen as the norm now. I’m very optimistic that with further development and time, ChatGPT will also make our lives easier and shall be the norm.” 

Not everyone is as optimistic as Sayed, however. Given the rapid pace of technological change now underway, many workers are concerned their professional functions will soon be entirely replaced by machinery, in the same way earlier bouts of automation eliminated farming and manufacturing jobs. 

Many industry experts argue such job losses will likely be offset by a rise in the number of new skilled roles in designing, building and maintaining AI products, necessitating a shift in the kind of education governments ought to provide to their future workforce.

INNUMBERS 

• $119.78bn AI’s estimated global market value in 2022.

• $15.7tn What AI is expected to contribute to the global economy by 2030.

• 13x AI industry’s projected growth over next 8 years.

• 97m Projected number of people working in AI by 2024.

Although Sayed accepts AI will alter the way people interact and communicate, he is confident humans will “learn how to adapt with changes over time” in the same way they accepted and adjusted to past technological leaps. In many ways, they already are. 

“Over the last few years, some of us may have already engaged with some form of AI product (knowingly or unknowingly) during our discussion with call centers, websites chatbots, hospital surgeries, Siri, Alexa, some Google products, certain vehicle manufacturers and more,” he said.

Beyond the future job market, chatbots are also creating headaches for educational institutions. Some colleges have reintroduced paper-based tests to stop students from using AI during exams after some students were caught using chatbots to answer test questions.

New York City’s education department has banned ChatGPT on its networks because of “concerns about negative impacts on student learning.” A group of Australian universities have also said they would change exam formats to prevent AI cheating.

On January 27, the Sciences Po school in Paris, one of the most prestigious universities in France, announced that anyone found to have used the chatbot would face “sanctions which can go as far as expulsion from the establishment or even from higher learning.”

Using data harvested from the web, ChatGPT was even able to pass exams at Minnesota University Law School after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts — reportedly earning a C+ grade.

Some companies are now marketing programs they claim can catch a text written by AI to help prevent cheating.




The Middle East is projected to accrue 2 percent of the global benefits of AI by the end of the decade, equivalent to $320 billion. (Shutterstock)

Despite the temptation to rely on such programs to answer exam questions, replace existing search engines, or provide unbiased news coverage, Jenna Burrell, director of research at Data & Society, an independent non-profit research organization based in California, said people need to take ChatGPT’s answers with a pinch of salt.

“ChatGPT simplifies things and is fun to play with. (It) can be very useful for journalists,” Burrell said during a recent webinar on how the technology might impact the work of media professionals. However, the information it gives “is not up to date…(and) there is a need for fact-checking.”

Burrell said AI is not going to be able to replace every professional function, as it cannot fully imitate human innovation, creativity, skepticism, and reasoning.

Furthermore, ChatGPT, which is based on “a large-language model,” is not the only emergent form of AI — and not necessarily its most sophisticated. Reinforcement learning, generative adversarial networks, and symbolic AI are all alternative models that are nipping at its heels.

“Large-language models are trained by pouring into them billions of words of everyday text, gathered from sources ranging from books to tweets and everything in between. The LLMs draw on all this material to predict words and sentences in certain sequences,” Dan Milmo and Alex Hern, the tech editors of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, said in a recent feature.

“LLMs do not understand things in a conventional sense — and they are only as good, or as accurate, as the information with which they are provided. They are essentially machines for matching patterns. Whether the output is ‘true’ is not the point, so long as it matches the pattern.”

Asked directly by Arab News whether it ultimately plans to replace human writers, ChatGPT offered a measure of reassurance — appearing to acknowledge its own creative and analytical limitations in a tone that might be construed as modesty.

“My abilities are limited to generating text based on patterns and patterns I have seen during my training on text data,” ChatGPT said.

“Human writers bring creativity, emotion and personal perspective that I am not able to replicate. Moreover, human writers are able to interpret, analyze and bring their own perspective and insight to a text.”




“Don’t demonize AI as it will be a part of our lives. I insisted that I use it to prove that it can deliver a pretty good speech,” said Ahmed Belhoul Al-Falasi, UAE minister of education. 

ChatGPT said it was programmed to “assist” in content creation on social media, blogs, and websites and write business plans, reports, emails and presentations; legal documents such as contracts; medical reports and summaries; and responses to customer inquiries and complaints.

Despite its many possible applications, in everything from entertainment to medical diagnosis, and its immense investment potential, with forecasts valuing in the trillions of dollars, the age of AI remains fraught with anxiety.

“Trust is key to the safe expansion of the use of AI solutions around the world, Dr. Scott Nowson, PwC Middle East’s artificial intelligence lead, told Arab News at the LEAP technology conference in Riyadh in early February.

While there are “some skills and some tasks that are better suited to automation with technology,” he said, the use of AI is “still contingent upon human intelligence and awareness.”

Nowson added: “There’s as much optimism as there is pessimism over AI. People believe AI will completely replace us when I really don’t think it will. I think we’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities.”

As the nations of the Gulf region pursue their national AI strategies, establishing schools to teach the next generation of tech developers, it is only a matter of time before similar products emerge on the regional market.

Sayed, the DeenSquare co-founder, expects governments, businesses, and tech developers across the Gulf region to follow AI-powered tools’ growth and applications with interest.

“I’m certain that in their upcoming strategy review meetings, the latest trends will be discussed to see how it can assist in their strategy to their advantage.”


Scores killed overnight in Gaza, Israeli negotiators in Paris

Scores killed overnight in Gaza, Israeli negotiators in Paris
Updated 24 February 2024
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Scores killed overnight in Gaza, Israeli negotiators in Paris

Scores killed overnight in Gaza, Israeli negotiators in Paris
  • 100 people reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza
  • Israeli air strike Friday destroyed home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people

Gaza Strip: More than 100 people were reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza, as Israel’s spy chief was in Paris for talks seeking to “unblock” progress toward a truce and the return of hostages held by Palestinian militants.
The Paris negotiations come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.
They also come as fears for civilians in the territory are deepening, with the UN warning of the growing risk of famine and its main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, saying early Saturday that Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches on.”
AFP footage showed distraught Gazans queuing for food in the territory’s devastated north on Friday and staging a protest decrying their living conditions.
“Look, we are fighting each other over rice,” said Jabalia resident Ahmad Atef Safi. “Where are we supposed to go?“
“We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke,” fellow Jabalia resident Oum Wajdi Salha told AFP.
“We can’t stand on our feet because of hunger and lack of food.”
In a Friday night statement on social media platform X, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said: “Without adequate food and water supplies, as well as health and nutrition services, the elevated risk of famine in #Gaza is projected to increase.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry on Friday.
An Israeli air strike Friday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the health ministry said.
The ministry announced early Saturday that at least 103 more people were killed in strikes overnight, with many others believed to be missing under rubble.
Netanyahu on Thursday night presented his war cabinet with a plan for the post-war Gaza Strip that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
The plan stipulates that, even after the war, the Israeli army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.
It also states that Israel will move ahead with a plan, already under way, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan drew criticism from the United States, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying Friday that Washington had been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed in post-war Gaza.
“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding the United States also did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza.”
Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “reserve judgment” until seeing all the details, but that Washington was against any “reoccupation” of Gaza after the war.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as unworkable.
“When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.
Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, was in Paris on Saturday for a fresh push toward a deal to return the remaining hostages.
Barnea will be joined by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
Pressure has been mounting on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the hostages’ release after more than four months of war, with a group representing the captives’ families planning what it billed as a “huge rally” to coincide with the Paris talks on Saturday night to demand swifter action.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.
Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
US National Security Council spokesman Kirby had told journalists earlier that so far the discussions were “going well,” while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of “the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress.”


US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles

US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles
Updated 24 February 2024
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US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles

US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles
  • Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting shipping for months and their attacks have persisted despite repeated American and British strikes

Washington: American forces shot down three attack drones near commercial ships in the Red Sea Friday and destroyed seven anti-ship cruise missiles positioned on land, the US military said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting shipping for months and their attacks have persisted despite repeated American and British strikes aimed at degrading the rebels’ ability to threaten a vital global trade route.
Early on Friday, US forces “shot down three Houthi one-way attack (drones) near several commercial ships operating in the Red Sea. There was no damage to any ships,” the Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.
In a statement later in the day, CENTCOM said US forces destroyed “seven Iranian-backed Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch toward the Red Sea.”
It said those strikes , carried out between 12:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Sanaa time, were made in self-defense.
“CENTCOM forces identified these missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy ships in the region,” it said in a statement.
The day prior, American forces struck four Houthi drones as well as two anti-ship cruise missiles, CENTCOM said, adding that the weapons “were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea.”
The Houthis began attacking Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.
US and UK forces responded with strikes against the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza — which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.


US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
Updated 24 February 2024
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US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
  • The Belize-flagged Rubymar was damaged Sunday by a missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels
  • It was transporting 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, says Roy Khoury, the CEO of Blue Fleet CEO

WASHINGTON: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick, in an environmental disaster that US Central Command said Friday could get worse.

Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in a Sunday missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury told AFP.
CENTCOM said the ship is anchored but slowly taking on water and has left an 18 mile oil slick.
“The M/V Rubymar was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, which could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster,” it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The ship’s operator said Thursday the ship could be towed to Djibouti this week.
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury had said there was “no risk for now, but always a possibility.”
The attack on the Rubymar represents the most significant damage yet to be inflicted on a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.
 


UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war
Updated 24 February 2024
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UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war

UN rights chief deplores ‘entrenched impunity’ in Gaza war
  • UN agency for Palestinian refugees at ‘breaking point,’ deplores chief

GENEVA, NEW YORK: The UN human rights chief said on Friday that perpetrators of gross human rights violations in the conflict between Israel and Hamas must be held accountable.

“The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He said that this impunity had contributed to violations that could amount to international crimes.
Turk urged all parties to the conflict to “put an end to impunity and conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective and transparent investigations” into alleged crimes under international law. He also called on them to implement a ceasefire on human rights and humanitarian grounds, to ensure full respect for international law, and to ensure accountability for violations and abuses.

FASTFACT

‘The entrenched impunity that OHCHR — the UN rights agency — has reported on for many years cannot persist,’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a report on the situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by South Africa, which brought the case.
In separate proceedings, South Africa on Tuesday urged the court to issue a non-binding legal opinion that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, arguing it would help efforts to reach a settlement.
Separately, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned it has reached a critical juncture as it struggles to cope with the war in Gaza.
“It is with profound regret that I must now inform you that UNRWA has reached a breaking point,” chief Philippe Lazzarini said, as donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the agency and humanitarian needs soar.
“The Agency’s ability to fulfill the mandate given through General Assembly Resolution 302 is now seriously threatened,” he said in a letter to the assembly.
That is the resolution under which the agency was founded in 1949, following the creation of Israel. UNRWA employs some 30,000 people working in the occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Several countries — including the US, Britain, Germany and Japan — have suspended funding to UNRWA in response to Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
In an interview published over the weekend Lazzarini said $438 million has been frozen — the equivalent of more than half of expected funding for 2024. He said Israel was waging a concerted effort to destroy UNRWA.
The UN fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe of UNRWA.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also tasked an independent panel with assessing whether UNRWA acts in a neutral fashion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lazzarini asserted that Israel has provided no evidence against the 12 former employees it accuses, but 16 countries have suspended funding anyway.
“I have cautioned donors and host countries that without new funding, UNRWA operations across the region will be severely compromised from March,” he said.
He added: “I fear we are on the edge of a monumental disaster with grave implications for regional peace, security and human rights.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s Health Ministry.

 


West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel
Updated 24 February 2024
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West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel

West Bank drone strike killed Palestinian fighter, claims Israel
  • The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others

JERUSALEM: The Israeli Army said on Friday that a Palestinian fighter on his way to carry out a shooting attack was killed in a drone strike in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin a day earlier.
Yasser Hanun from the Islamic Jihad group had previously been detained for his involvement in the “terrorist organization’s military activities,” the army said in a statement.
The resident of Jenin refugee camp “was eliminated while en route to carry out another shooting attack,” the statement said, without elaborating.
Witnesses and residents said the strike also killed 17-year-old Saeed Jaradat.
A witness said weapons in the car exploded after the strike on Thursday.

BACKGROUND

Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the war began, according to the Health Ministry in Ramallah.

Hanun was involved in several shooting attacks targeting Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as shooting at soldiers and military posts, the army said.
Palestinian news agency Wafa said two people were killed and four wounded in the strike.
Video footage showed a car severely burned from the hit, its roof torn as if by a can opener.
“Two successive missiles” struck the car, Usayd Shelbi, who witnessed the strike, said.
“The situation was dangerous. The weapons in the car were exploding,” he said.
Crowds of mourners gathered for the funeral of the two men on Friday.
“This occupation bares its fangs clearly ... It rejects the existence of the Palestinian people,” Jamal Haweel, a leader in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
The drone strike in Jenin came hours after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at cars on a congested West Bank highway near a Jewish settlement on Thursday, killing an Israeli man and wounding eight others.
The gunmen were killed.
The West Bank has seen a surge in violence, to levels unseen in nearly two decades, since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began on Oct. 7.