JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed a leader of the so-called “Den of Lions”, a fast-rising Palestinian militant group from the city of Nablus on Tuesday in a targeted operation that set off one of the biggest gunfights seen in the West Bank in weeks.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Israeli military said its forces had raided an apartment in the market area of the Old City that was used as an explosives manufacturing site, killing 31-year-old Wadi al-Houh, who it said was responsible for making pipe bombs and obtaining weapons.
The Den of Lions emerged around a year ago in Nablus, where posters of its dead fighters, almost all young men posing with their automatic weapons and combat gear, are now plastered all over the narrow streets of the Old City and its covered market.
While members of the group have great prestige in the Old City, none of its leaders has established a wide profile outside their home town.
The group gained greater prominence across the West Bank following the killing in August of a 19-year-old militant called Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, whose death has been used a rallying cause for disaffected youths in the Old City and refugee camps.
According to local Palestinian officials, the original core group of four young militants was mainly motivated by anger at the encroachments of Israeli settlers and confrontations with the Israeli military.
The group is not linked to the mainstream Palestinian factions or the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority and does not appear to have any fully articulated political goals beyond fighting the Israeli occupation. But it may receive financial or logistical support from other groups, Palestinian officials say.
Clashes with settlers at Jacob’s Tomb, a well-known monument and pilgrimage site in Nablus, were taken by members of the group as a particular challenge.
There is little reliable information on its numbers but one Palestinian official with good connections in the Old City of Nablus said there were perhaps 25 active gunmen, with a larger number of supporters outside the core group.
The Palestinian Authority, which has struggled to come up with a response to the group’s wide popular support in Nablus, has tried to buy their weapons from them or integrate them into their security forces, according to Nablus governor Ibrahim Ramadan, but with little success.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Ali Sawafta; editing by Jonathan Oatis)