NABLUS, West Bank: Six Palestinians were killed and nearly 20 injured early on Tuesday in sweeping raids by Israeli forces in the West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Wadih Al Houh, a militant leader of a new coalition of Palestinian militants dubbed “The Lions’ Den”, had been among those killed in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
The ministry initially reported three dead and 19 wounded, three of them seriously, shot “by Israeli fire in Nablus”.
Later statements said that two more Palestinians had died in Nablus, while another Palestinian was also killed in overnight clashes near Ramallah.
The Israeli army said it had carried out a vast operation with police and intelligence officers targeting a site “used by the main operatives of the ‘Lion’s Den’”, describing it as a “headquarters and a workshop for making weapons” of the militants.
“The forces detonated the explosive manufacturing site,” the army statement added, which did not provide a death toll. “During the activity, multiple armed suspects were hit.”
Violence has increased in recent months in the northern West Bank, the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 by Israel, especially in the areas of Nablus and Jenin.
More than 100 Palestinian militants and civilians have been killed since the start of the year, the heaviest toll in the West Bank for nearly seven years, according to the United Nations.
Lapid, speaking on Israeli public broadcaster Kan radio, warned Palestinian militants that “they need to know that we will reach them wherever they are,” he said.
“Israel will never stop acting for its security and we will do what needs to be done,” he added. “The goal is to reduce terrorism and ensure that it does not affect Israeli citizens”.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is establishing “urgent contacts in order to stop this aggression against our people” in Nablus, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said in a statement.
In recent weeks, a group of young Palestinians - some affiliated with mainstream groups such as Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad - have launched militant attacks from Nablus.
The new group, called “Areen Al Ossoud” or “The Lions’ Den” in English, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on an Israeli soldier two weeks ago in the West Bank.
Late leader Ebrahim Al Nabulsi, nicknamed “The Lion of Nablus”, was known for galvanising the youth before he was shot dead by Israeli forces in August. He has since become a folk hero to Palestinians on social media.
In the aftermath, the Israeli army tightened its grip on Nablus, setting up controls to identify people leaving the city and constantly scanning the skies of the city with observation drones.
On Saturday night, a Lions’ Den militant, Tamer Al Kilani, was killed in Nablus by an “explosion” attributed by the group and the Israeli press to a bomb remotely activated by the Israeli army.
The army did not comment on these claims.
Separately, rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday called for an International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into possible “war crimes” committed in August by both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants during deadly fighting in Gaza.
At least 49 Palestinians, including combatants but also civilians including children, were killed in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip during the three-day conflict.