Five Palestinians killed amid mounting violence ahead of Israeli elections

A gunman from the Lions' Den group is seen at the funeral of the five men killed by Israeli forces during a raid in the Old City of Nablus (Nasser Ishtayeh - Flash90)

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  October 25, 2022

21 people also wounded in one of deadliest operations this year by Israeli forces in West Bank.

Five Palestinians have been killed and 21 wounded in a huge raid by Israeli forces in Nablus, one of the deadliest operations so far during a year of mounting violence in the occupied West Bank.

Snipers, soldiers with shoulder-launched missiles and members of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency attacked the old city in the early hours of Tuesday, the Israeli military said, blowing up what it said was a bomb lab and killing one of the leaders of an increasingly popular Palestinian militant group in a gunfight.

Smoke and flames rose above the Ottoman buildings of the Nablus casbah overnight, while residents reported hearing a large explosion that rocked several neighbourhoods.

On Tuesday morning, shopkeepers cleared glass, twisted metal and other debris in the aftermath of the raid. Thousands of people attended a funeral procession for the five men, while businesses across the territory and the Gaza Strip observed a general strike.

Palestinian media said two of the men killed on Tuesday were unarmed barbers on their way home from work. The other three reportedly belonged to the Lion’s Den, a newly formed militia operating independently of established Palestinian factions taking on both Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers in the Nablus area.

A sixth man was killed overnight in a protest near Ramallah, Palestinian health officials said. Several members of the Palestinian Authority (PA) forces were among the injured, Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy chairman of the ruling Fatah movement, told Palestine TV. His comments suggested that the raid was carried out without the cooperation of the PA, which relies on Israel for security coordination.

The Lion’s Den is immensely popular across the West Bank, where three million people chafe under the open-ended Israeli occupation and the oppressive rule of the Palestinian Authority.

Organized armed resistance has been steadily growing since the unrest in Jerusalem last May that culminated in an 11-day war in Gaza and scenes of intercommunal violence on Israel’s streets. The Lion’s Den has also clashed with PA forces.

Cities across the West Bank have suffered near-nightly Israel Defence Forces (IDF) raids since March, part of a major Israeli military operation launched in response to a wave of terror attacks in Israel this spring.

Nablus, the second biggest city in the occupied territory, and nearby Jenin, which hosts a huge poverty-stricken refugee camp, are the centre of the fighting. Nablus has been under an Israeli military blockade for the last several days, severely restricting movement, and locals have also faced a spike in attacks by settlers.

The violence appears to be worsening: more than 100 Palestinians from the West Bank have been killed this year, a seven-year record, while terrorist attacks by Palestinians have killed 20 people in Israel and Israeli settlements. Four soldiers have been killed, including one shooting for which the Lion’s Den claimed responsibility.

Israeli forces are believed to have carried out a targeted assassination in Nablus last week, which would be the first since the second intifada in the 2000s, and have not ruled out introducing armed drones in West Bank operations.

In a statement, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for PA president Mahmoud Abbas, said his office is establishing “urgent contacts in order to stop this aggression against our people”.

“All of this will have dangerous and destructive consequences,” he told Palestinian television.

The increasing tensions come ahead of Israeli elections on 1 November. Prime minister Yair Lapid, who is unlikely to win a stable majority, said that Israel would continue its campaign against militant targets in Nablus and other cities. “We will not relent even for a moment,” he said.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian