Gantz: 'There won't be sanctuary cities for terrorists'

IDF: Lion’s Den leader, 4 other gunmen killed, bomb factory destroyed in Nablus raid

Top terror group commander Wadee al-Houh ‘main target’ of overnight operation in West Bank; 6th fatality reported near Ramallah; PIJ vows revenge, Abbas aide pans ‘war crime’

Wadee al-Houh (left) the leader of the Nablus-based Lion's Den, is seen with Ibrahim al-Nabulsi (right). Al-Houh was killed in an Israeli raid in the West Bank city on October 25, 2022 and al-Nabulsi was killed in a similar raid in August. (Social media)
Wadee al-Houh (left) the leader of the Nablus-based Lion's Den, is seen with Ibrahim al-Nabulsi (right). Al-Houh was killed in an Israeli raid in the West Bank city on October 25, 2022 and al-Nabulsi was killed in a similar raid in August. (Social media)

Israeli soldiers killed the leader of a Nablus-based terror group and destroyed an explosives workshop in the West Bank city, the military said early Tuesday, in an extensive raid that sparked intense clashes, leaving another four gunmen dead, and over 20 injured, according to Palestinian health officials.

The Israel Defense Forces said 31-year-old Wadee al-Houh led the Lion’s Den terror group in Nablus and was responsible for numerous attacks. The group mourned him as a “leader” in a later statement.

Blasts and gunshots rang out for over an hour in Nablus after a large convoy of IDF vehicles entered the West Bank city before 1 a.m. Tuesday. Nablus has been the focus of weeks of operations targeting the Lion’s Den terror group, responsible for a string of attacks on military positions, settlements and other targets.

“A joint force of IDF soldiers, Shin Bet security service agents and anti-terror forces raided a hideaway in Nablus’s old city that was being used as a bomb workshop by central members of Lion’s Den,” the IDF said in a statement released following the raid.

The IDF said troops had used shoulder-launched missiles against the building. “The bomb workshop was blown up by our forces,” the military said.

The army said soldiers opened fire on a number of gunmen, citing Palestinian reports of casualties. It said soldiers also returned fire when shot at during rioting in the city. “During the operation, dozens of Palestinians burned tires and threw stones at troops,” the army said.

The IDF said no soldiers were hurt in the overnight operation.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reported that five Palestinians were killed in Nablus and over 20 were injured, several of them seriously.

It also reported that a sixth person was killed in clashes with troops in Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. The IDF said that man was shot by soldiers after hurling an explosive device at them.

Men carry Hamdi Sharaf’s body after clashing with Israeli forces in Nablus, in the West Bank on October 25, 2022. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The ministry named the fatalities in Nablus as Hamdi Ramzy, 30, Ali Antar, 26, Hamdi Sharaf, 35, Wadee al-Houh, 31, and Mishaal Baghdadi, 27.

Al-Houh was a senior and founding member of Lion’s Den, according to Israeli officials and Palestinian media reports.

The IDF said al-Houh was a “main target of the operation.”

Al-Houh was also responsible for manufacturing explosive devices and procuring weapons for members of the group, the IDF charged.

Palestinian media identified the other killed men as members as well. The group later confirmed the members’ deaths and said al-Houh was a “leader.” In a statement, Lion’s Den also vowed revenge following the raid.

“The terrorist Wadee al-Houh was killed in the exchange of fire,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid told the Kan public radio on Tuesday morning.

“Israel will never be deterred from acting for its security. Part of this squad are people who hurt Ido Baruch, and the moment they hurt us, IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians, they should know it will end badly,” he added, referring to a soldier killed in a shooting attack near Nablus last month.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a Tuesday morning Twitter post, “There aren’t and won’t be sanctuary cities for terrorists.”

“We will continue to act against anyone who tries to harm the citizens of Israel, wherever and whenever necessary,” he added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was establishing “urgent contacts in order to stop this aggression against our people,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said as fighting appeared to rage in Nablus.

In a later statement, Abu Rudeinah said the deaths are “a war crime and the Israeli government bears full responsibility for its consequences.”

Palestinian media reported that calls were being made for a general strike in Nablus on Tuesday.

Palestinian kids look at a damaged car following an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, October 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Separately, the military said Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Salem crossing in the northern West Bank early Tuesday. The checkpoint and adjacent base has been the target of numerous shooting attacks in recent weeks, leading Gantz to order it shut.

The IDF said troops returned fire at the gunmen, and later arrested one of them at their home in the town of Rummanah.

Two other wanted Palestinians were detained in overnight raids in other areas of the West Bank.

Protesters burn tires in the streets of Nablus during clashes with Israeli forces in Nablus, in the West Bank on early October 25, 2022. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

After the Nablus operation early Tuesday, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said in a statement that its “fighters were involved in violent clashes” with Israeli forces in Nablus and threatened Israel with reprisals “against these crimes” there.

Palestinian reports claimed that members of the PA’s security force were caught off guard by the raid and also opened fire at the Israeli troops, who shot back, resulting in injuries. The military, however, said it was unaware of any clashes with PA forces overnight.

The raid was the latest in the city to target Lion’s Den, a recently formed group made up of members of other terror organizations that has claimed a slew of attacks in the weeks since Israel killed senior al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade member Ibrahim al-Nabulsi in late August.

One Israeli soldier — Staff Sgt. Ido Baruch, 21, — was killed in an attack by the group and a second person was lightly injured in a separate assault on civilian vehicles. The other attacks have been ineffectual, but videos of the shootings uploaded to social media have helped it win it massive popularity on the Palestinian street in a short period of time.

On Saturday night, a Lion’s Den fighter, Tamer al-Kilani, was killed in the Old City of Nablus by an “explosion” attributed by the group and the Israeli press to a bomb remotely activated by the Israeli army. The military has not commented publicly on the claims.

Palestinians gather around a motorcycle, that was reportedly used to kill Tamer al-Kilani, in the old city of Nablus, on October 23, 2022. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

A defense official said Kilani, previously jailed in Israel, was directly involved in sending a Palestinian man to attempt to commit a “large-scale” attack in Tel Aviv last month, among several more shooting attacks in the Nablus area.

The Tuesday statement blamed Lion’s Den for the foiled attack in Tel Aviv, which was thwarted when the would-be assailant was searched by police in Jaffa, who found guns and improvised explosives in his bag.

It also said the group was responsible for planting a bomb at a gas station in the settlement of Kedumim, attempting to carry out an explosives attack on the settlement of Har Bracha, and throwing a fragmentation grenade at troops stationed in Nablus.

Israeli security forces conduct a search operation following a shooting attack in the West Bank village of Salem, near Nablus, on October 2, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Tensions in the Nablus area have ratcheted up in recent weeks, with Israel’s military placing a cordon around the Palestinian city to crack down on Lion’s Den.

The pressure has been exacerbated by increasingly frequent assaults by settlers in the area angry over the army’s inability to rein in the groups, who has taken out frustrations on Palestinians in Huwara and other towns abutting settlements.

An anti-terror offensive launched earlier this year and focused on the northern West Bank has netted more than 2,000 arrests in near-nightly raids. It has also left over 120 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.

The IDF’s anti-terror offensive in the West Bank was launched following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people earlier this year. Another Israeli was killed in a suspected attack last month, and four soldiers have been killed in the West Bank in attacks and during the arrest operations.

AFP contributed to this report.

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