Israeli forces have raided the stronghold of an armed group in the occupied West Bank, blowing up an explosives lab and engaging in a firefight, the military said.
At least five Palestinians have been killed and 20 were wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The overnight raid in the old city of Nablus was one of the deadliest in the West Bank in 2022 and comes at a time of escalating tensions.
Television footage showed flames and smoke rising in the night sky over Nablus. The city is currently under a crackdown from the IDF. The target of the raid was a group of Palestinian gunmen calling themselves the Lion’s Den.
The group was responsible for the recent fatal shooting of an Israeli soldier and several attempted attacks, the army said. The five men killed in the raid were in their 20s and 30s, the Health Ministry said. Several of the wounded were in serious condition, the ministry said.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Kan public radio that Wadie Houh, a leader of the Lion’s Den group, was killed in a shootout with Israeli troops overnight. “Israel will never be deterred from acting for the sake of its security,” he said.
A senior member of the group was previously killed on Sunday in an explosion in Nablus, with Lions’ Den claiming Israel “assassinated” him. Hundreds of people attended the funeral of leader Tamer Kilani later that day, many armed with guns. In a statement, Lion’s Den claimed that Israeli forces planted the bomb, although some reports suggested it might have been an accident.
Who are Lion’s Den
Israeli security forces said the raid was to target an armed group, called Lion’s Den, which is based in Nablus. The group emerged following the killing of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a prominent militant from the city, by Israeli forces in August 2022, the European Council on Foreign Relations states.
It has regularly engaged in armed clashes with Israeli security forces and shootings against Israeli military and civilians targets in the West Bank, the ECFR says.
According to Israeli sources, Lion’s Den was reportedly co-founded by Adham al-Shishani, Mohammad al-Dakhil, Ashraf Mubaslat and Ibrahim al-Nabulsi. All of them were under 25 years age and have since been killed by the IDF.
What is the current situation in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Ongoing Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank pose a serious challenge to the Palestinian self-rule government, which administers just over one-third of the territory. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas relies on security cooperation with Israel, particularly against his Islamic militant rivals, to remain in power.
At the same time, this cooperation is deeply unpopular among Palestinians who oppose Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year.
Younger Palestinians are particularly disillusioned. Small bands of gunmen have formed in some areas, first in the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold of militants, and now in Nablus. These groups challenge the Palestinian Authority and carry out attacks against Israeli targets.
Mr Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, issued a statement in which he described the ongoing Israeli raids as a war crime. More than 125 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year.
The fighting has surged since a series of Palestinian attacks killed 19 people in Israel in the spring. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting over the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
What is the West Bank?
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built more than 130 settlements there, many of which resemble small towns, with apartment blocks, shopping malls and industrial zones.
The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state. Most countries - including the UK - view the settlements as a violation of international law.