Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday that anyone who hurts Israeli citizens “should know it will end badly,” after troops carried out a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, sparking clashes that left five dead including a top leader of the Lion’s Den terror group.
“The terrorist Wadee al-Houh was killed in the exchange of fire,” Lapid told the Kan public broadcaster.
“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.
In a later statement, Lapid said he had spoken with the commanders involved in the raid to receive further details and to congratulate them.
The premier said it was part of a wider operation against terror that he had been presented with by security chiefs in recent days, and emphasized the need for continued vigilance.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a Tuesday morning Twitter post, “There aren’t and won’t ever 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.
Gantz later visited the IDF’s Samaria Regional Brigade headquarters in the northern West Bank, where he vowed: “We won’t accept the reality of terror on any front where we operate.”
“Anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens will end up in jail or a grave,” he warned. “There will be no safe havens for terrorists and we will be wherever is needed to fulfill our mission.”
Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted that “terrorists will have no hiding place and no rest. We will reach them and hit them anywhere and at any time.”
Meanwhile, the head of the hardline Arab Israeli Balad party, Sami Abou Shahadeh, condemned the IDF raid on Nablus as a “war crime and terrorism.”
Israel Defense Forces soldiers destroyed an explosives workshop in Nablus in the early hours of Tuesday, the military said, in an extensive operation that led to the deadly clashes that also left over 20 injured, according to Palestinian health officials.
Blasts and gunshots rang out for over an hour in Nablus after a large convoy of Israel Defense Forces vehicles entered the West Bank city. The IDF said no soldiers were hurt in the overnight operation.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was establishing “urgent contacts in order to stop this aggression against our people,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said as fighting appeared to rage in Nablus.
In a later statement, Abu Rudeineh said the deaths are “a war crime and the Israeli government bears full responsibility for its consequences.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said in a statement that its “fighters were involved in violent clashes” with forces in Nablus and threatened Israel with reprisals “against these crimes” there.
Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh warned in a statement that the violence would “plunge Palestine into escalation.”
The army said soldiers opened fire on a number of gunmen. It also said soldiers also returned fire when shot at during rioting in the city.
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 PA 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, who ostensibly led the group and was allegedly responsible for numerous attacks, 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 did not immediately comment on the operation against it.
In response to the raid, a general strike began in Nablus on Tuesday morning.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry 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.
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.
The recently formed group made up of members of other terror organizations 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 attacks and thwarted attacks in the West Bank.
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 in West Bank has been exacerbated by increasingly frequent assaults by settlers on Palestinians in Huwara and other towns abutting settlements, as well as on Israeli soldiers.
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.