Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Thousands of people have turned out for the funeral procession of five Palestinian men killed by Israeli forces during a raid in Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank.
Residents and journalists confirmed to Al Jazeera that two of the men – Hamdi Sharaf, 30, and Ali Antar, 26 – were unarmed barbers who were on their way home from work when they were shot dead on the street by Israeli special forces.
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The other three men – Hamdi Qayyem, 35; Wadee al-Hawah, 31; and Mish’al Baghdadi, 27 – belonged to the Lions’ Den armed resistance group, based in the Old City of Nablus, which has emerged as a centre of resistance against the Israeli occupation.
A sixth man, Qusai al-Tamimi, was killed later on Tuesday morning in ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army in the village of Nabi Saleh on the western outskirts of Ramallah in the central West Bank. A health ministry spokesperson confirmed to Al Jazeera that Tamimi was 19.
“There is a state of sadness in Nablus, a very difficult atmosphere,” Bakr Abdelhaq, a local journalist for Palestine TV, told Al Jazeera. “The fighters, even though they were young, were respected and had large popular regard.”
Millions of Palestinians across the West Bank observed a general strike as they mourned the six killed. Schools and stores closed early in all cities.
The West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin have been the target of near-daily raids, arrests and killings by Israeli forces over the past year due to the growing organisation of small armed resistance groups in the two cities.
Khaled Jamal, a 25-year-old resident of Nablus who witnessed the raid, said that while killings by Israel in Nablus have become routine, “today was unreal.”
“At the funeral for the men, the people were crying hysterically,” he told Al Jazeera. “People are going crazy. Hundreds of people were at the Rafidia hospital in Nablus, where the injured and martyrs were coming in.”
“People came on motorcycles from Jenin to bid farewell to the martyrs and help the families of Nablus,” added Jamal, who lives close to the hospital.
Hazem Nasser, another journalist based in Nablus, described “an impressively huge funeral” and tensions in the city.
“There are large numbers of armed men on the streets firing non-stop live ammunition into the air.” he told Al Jazeera. “The air of rage is very evident. Everyone is on strike. Everything is closed.”
تشييع شهداء نابلس قبل قليل. pic.twitter.com/9MNeJDaoBo
— شجاعية (@shejae3a) October 25, 2022
[Translation: Funeral procession for Nablus martyrs moments ago]
‘More like an invasion’
Israeli special forces using dozens of armored vehicles raided Nablus at 12:20am on Tuesday (21:20 GMT on Monday), and fighting broke out with Palestinian resistance fighters and Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.
Hundreds of youth emerged onto the streets, many of them throwing rocks at Israeli forces in the Old City of Nablus.
At least 21 Palestinians were wounded, including four in critical condition, one of whom is a PA security officer, according to sources on the ground.
Al-Hawa, considered the highest-ranking commander of those killed, was besieged in a home in the Old City along with Baghdadi. Israeli forces targeted the building with missiles fired by drones, according to residents. Qayyem was killed in a missile strike that hit his car.
Mahdi Abu Ghazaleh, a resident of the Old City and a member of the Fatah movement, described the Israeli raid as “more like an invasion”.
“More than 100 vehicles entered,” Abu Ghazaleh told Al Jazeera. “That’s separate from the special forces that spread out between the homes and neighborhoods in civilian clothing, the snipers that positioned themselves on rooftops in Ras al-Ain and Jabal al-Shamali, and the drones that launched missiles.”
Jamal, the witness, said Israeli forces attacked residents of the Old City with a poisonous type of gas. “We’re still not sure what it was,” he said. “It was tear gas mixed with poisonous gas fired from drones.”
Al Jazeera was unable to confirm the use of a gas from Palestinian officials, and the Israeli military has yet to respond to Al Jazeera about the allegations.
‘State of war’
The Israeli army has put the Nablus governorate under siege for two weeks with heavy restrictions on the movement of about 420,000 Palestinians and a sharp rise in settler attacks on Palestinians.
The siege was imposed as Israeli forces search for suspects in an October 11 shooting in which one Israeli soldier was killed near the settlement of Shavei Shomron, northwest of Nablus. The recently formed Lions’ Den group claimed responsibility, and the man who carried it out remains on the run.
Tensions in the West Bank have been boiling up particularly over the past few months with shootings at Israeli military checkpoints and soldiers increasing. During the past month alone, three Israeli soldiers have been killed in separate attacks.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, Israeli forces have killed 184 Palestinians since the start of the year, including 132 people in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank and 51 in the besieged Gaza Strip. The death toll includes 41 children, 17 of whom were killed during Israel’s three-day assault on Gaza in August.
The United Nations has said that 2022 “is the highest year for Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank, compared to the same period in the previous 16 years”.
Palestinians went on a mass general strike in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Thursday after Israeli forces killed 22-year-old Uday Tamimi, who was accused of shooting at a checkpoint in which one Israeli soldier was killed.
On Sunday, the Israeli army killed a member of Lions’ Den named Tamer al-Kilani in Nablus.
“Nablus has been living in a state of war for about a month,” journalist Abdelhaq said.
“There are constant surveillance drones in the sky,” he told Al Jazeera. “There are extremely heavy restrictions on exit from the city and surrounding areas.”
“The assassination of al-Kilani gave people the idea that Israel is going towards a different policy of dealing with Nablus – focusing on targeted assassinations and moving away from the prospect of a large raid,” the reporter said.
“The raid also appears to have happened without coordination with the PA because of the armed clashes that took place with the Israeli army,” Abdelhaq added. “There was a state of suspense that there could be a raid, but no one expected that it would be this soon and of this size.”