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.
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.
الشهيد حبيب الله.. الشهيد عند الله
إستشهاد القائد الميداني في #عرين_الأسود وديع الحوح
ولا حول ولا قوة الا بالله
إنا لله وإنا إليه راجعون pic.twitter.com/Ofy7TDWhhd
— رضا ياسين ???????? (@RedaYasen2021) October 25, 2022
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.
— adel aridji (@AdelAridji) October 24, 2022
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.
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.
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.
إحباط عملية عدوان صهيونية على مدينة جبل النار نابلس، توثيق لحضات الإنسحاب والإشتباكات pic.twitter.com/KnjEFhxH1E
— Barakat Mohammed (@MBarakat510) October 25, 2022
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.
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.
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.