An armed group has emerged out of Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, in the past few months, and appears to be changing the face of Palestinian resistance.
The Lions’ Den has gained notoriety for attacks against Israeli checkpoints, soldiers and settlements.
Israel has attempted to crush the group, as well as others, in an operation code-named “Break the Wave”, leading to near-daily raids and dozens of Palestinians killed.
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But so far, the group has remained active, with few signs that the occupied Palestinian territory will be pacified any time soon.
Who are the members of the Lions’ Den?
- The members of the group are primarily young men in their early 20s who have individual ties to the four main traditional Palestinian political parties: Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
- However, the fighting group is cross-factional; members have said in statements that they do not belong or take orders from any party, have turned their backs on factional disputes, and are instead focused on fighting the Israeli occupation.
- Several members have been in Palestinian Authority (PA) prisons before, mostly for possessing arms. The PA has recently arrested one of the group’s leading members, Musab Shtayyeh of Hamas, a move that led to an escalation of tensions on the streets of Nablus.
When was the group’s first official appearance?
- The Lions’ Den’s first official appearance was on September 2 during a memorial held in Nablus for two of its fighters – Mohammed al-Azizi, the founder of the group, and Abd al-Rahman Sobh – who were killed by Israeli forces 40 days earlier.
- The group’s charter and resistance programme was announced on the same day. It said the group would continue to target Israeli forces and settlers.
- The statement blamed what it called Israeli “arrogance” and the killing of Palestinians for the uptick in violence.
- The Lions’ Den also addressed members of the PA’s security forces to emphasise the fight was directed at the Israeli occupation only.
Who are the group’s prominent members?
- On February 8, Israeli special forces shot three Palestinian men dead in their vehicle. The men – Ashraf Mubaslat, Mohammad Dakhil, and Adham Mabrouka – were members of the Lions’ Den.
- On August 9, 19-year-old Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, known as the Lion of Nablus, was also killed by Israel after soldiers surrounded an old house he was hiding in and fired missiles at it. Fellow fighter Islam Sabbath was also killed in the operation.
- Nabulsi enjoyed popular support from Palestinians as he had evaded Israeli capture for several months, and reappeared briefly – and defiantly – at the funerals of other members of the Lions’ Den. Generally, the fighters appear to be respected by many Palestinians.
- Recently, Tamer al-Kilani, a top fighter of the group, was killed after an explosive device placed on a motorcycle in the Old City of Nablus was detonated as he was passing by. The Lions’ Den blamed Israel, which has not commented on the incident.
- On Tuesday, three other senior members – Hamdi Qayyem, Wadee al-Hawah, and Mish’al Baghdadi, 27 – were killed after Israeli forces raided Nablus.
What is next for the Lions’ Den?
- Tensions in the West Bank have reached a boiling point with daily Israel arrests, raids, and killings of Palestinians as a direct result of the growing organisation of small armed resistance groups in Nablus and Jenin.
- During the past month alone, three Israeli soldiers have been killed in separate attacks.
- The Lions’ Den has since taken the responsibility for several shootings, including the one on October 11 in which one Israeli soldier was killed near the settlement of Shavei Shomron, northwest of Nablus. The city has been under Israeli siege since then, with heavy restrictions on the movement of about 420,000 Palestinians.
- But with Israel carrying out targeted assassinations on the group’s members, some analysts believe that the Lions’ Den is a movement that will not be able to last, while others see the phenomenon repeating itself in other areas.
- Sources told Al Jazeera that the core 15-20 members wanted by Israel have refused to turn themselves in, even to the PA.