Six killed as Israel targets militants in West Bank raid
Five Palestinians, including at least three gunmen, have been killed in a major Israeli raid against a militant group in the occupied West Bank.
A sixth Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops who were attacked with stones in a protest against the raid, Palestinian medical sources say.
The operation in the northern city of Nablus targeted the recently formed Lion’s Den group.
The group killed an Israeli soldier in a shooting earlier this month.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had locked down Nablus for the past two weeks amid an intensive search for the killer of an Israeli soldier. Staff Sgt Ido Baruch, 21, was shot dead in an ambush near an Israeli settlement about 8km (five miles) away.
There has been an intensification of violence between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank in recent weeks amid an ongoing Israeli operation to root out militants following a wave of deadly attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
What will worry the watching diplomatic community, the BBC’s Tom Bateman reports from Nablus, is that this raid saw exchanges of fire between Israeli troops and members of the official, internationally backed Palestinian security forces.
On entering the city on Tuesday, our correspondent found the road littered with the debris from the overnight clashes – rocks were strewn on the tarmac and fire crews were pumping water over smouldering tyres.
Nablus is now on strike. Shops and restaurants are shuttered along street after street usually busy with markets and children heading out from school, he says, the quiet broken only by the sound of gunmen returning from the funerals still firing into the air.
The Lion’s Den group was formed following near daily arrest raids by Israeli forces targeting militants, concentrated in the northern West Bank. It is believed to number a few dozen members and has carried out, or attempted, attacks around the Nablus area and as far afield as Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli military.
The group had recently defied calls from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs Nablus, to give up its weapons in return for becoming part of the official Palestinian security forces.
The IDF said security forces had targeted an apartment in the heart of the Old City in Nablus, which it said had been used as a bomb-making factory and headquarters of the group.
Palestinians called via loudspeakers for locals to come out and defend the city, as young men poured into the streets.
A fierce gun battle erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinians in which five were killed.
At least three who died have been identified as members of Lion’s Den, including a senior commander and founder of the group, Wadi al-Houh, 31. Israeli media say all five belonged to it although, according to locals. two of those killed were civilians uninvolved in the fighting.
The official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, named the others killed in Nablus as Hamdi Sharaf, 35; Ali Antar, 26; Hamdi Qayyim, 30; and Mishaal Zahi Baghdadi, 27.
More than 20 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, the Palestinian health ministry said. There are no reports of Israeli casualties.
Israeli troops blew the apartment up during the operation. Local reports say an anti-tank missile was fired at the building.
A Palestinian, identified as Qusai Tamimi, 19, was also shot dead in the town of Nabi Saleh further south when youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers in protest at the Nablus raid, reports say.
The raid came amid a broader, ongoing operation launched by the IDF named Break the Wave after 17 Israelis and two Ukrainians were killed by Palestinian and Israeli Arab attackers earlier this year.
On the Palestinian side, more than 100 people, including militants, attackers and civilians, have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since January amid the upsurge in violence, making this year one of the deadliest for Palestinians since 2015.