In the lion’s den: will Palestinian resistance continue to grow?


Nablus, Occupied West Bank – Traces of blood still stain the floor of Wadee al-Hawah’s home in the Yasmineh neighborhood deep in the old city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Dozens of bullets, shrapnel from projectiles and remains of several armed drones that exploded were scattered among piles of rubble and destroyed furniture.

All but the 150-year-old stone walls of the house were destroyed during Israel’s attack on the house on October 25.

Israeli forces launched a large-scale attack on Nablus that night — the largest in recent weeks — killing five Palestinian men, including three members of the Palestinian armed resistance group Lions’ Den.

The faces of the five men murdered on October 25 are plastered over the cobbled alleys of the old town.

The group’s top commander, 31-year-old Wadee al-Hawah, was killed in his home. Several other fighters were in the house during the hour-long attack, including 27-year-old Mishal Baghdadi, who was also killed.

The home of Lions’ Den commander Wadee al-Hawah in the old city of Nablus after Israel’s attack on October 25 [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Sitting in her apartment among a group of female relatives, neighbors and friends, all dressed in black, 33-year-old Sabreen al-Hawah is filled with what she says is pride and sadness about her murdered brother.

“Wadee was a lion in every sense of the word,” she told Al Jazeera five days after the murders at her home. “He died a dignified death and did not shrink from his principles.”

Sabreen said that although she knew her brother was a fighter and wanted, he didn’t tell her anything else: “We only recently found out that he was going to be firing at checkpoints, that he would be publishing any statements from the Lions’ Den. The men would gather in his house.”

After-extinguishing resistance
Relatives and friends of Wadee al-Hawah mourn him during a gathering at his sister’s home in Nablus [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

‘Send a message’

The assassination of Al-Hawah is the latest in a series of Israeli operations targeting Palestinian fighters in the occupied West Bank since June 2021.

In March 2022, following a series of attacks by Palestinians that killed 19 people in Israel, the Israeli military launched an operation it calls Break the Wave, trying to quell a phenomenon of growing armed resistance, particularly in Nablus and Jenin. by carrying out almost daily raids, murders and arrests in the two northern cities of the West Bank.

Israel’s three-day attack on the blockaded Gaza Strip in August, which killed at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children, was also carried out as part of that campaign.

The rise of the Lions’ Den comes as public support for armed resistance among Palestinians increases. It is not the first new armed group to emerge: In September 2021, the Jenin Brigades, largely affiliated with the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), announced themselves. In May 2022, a similar group was formed that was also affiliated with the PIJ, the Nablus Brigades.

With roots going back to February 2022, the Lions’ Den formally came into existence in September.

“We are a group and not an organization. Anyone who wants to oppose the occupation is welcome,” one fighter told Al Jazeera in the ancient city of Nablus, adding that members use rifles they have obtained themselves and not in an organized or funded way.

“It’s about sending a message [to Israel], that we will not sit still,” he said. “We know we can’t liberate Palestine now, but we’re leaving this to the next generation.”

PA and Israeli pressure

The effect of these groups has been demonstrated by the sharp increase in shooting operations at checkpoints and killings of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the past two months. The Lions’ Den has since taken responsibility for several shootings.

The group has received support in recent months. Thousands showed up for the funerals of dead fighters, and demands from the Lions’ Den of the public have sparked general strikes and protests.

The fighters’ refusal to identify with a particular political party or party has caused problems for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“These young people have no political hope. Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] sits there and says let’s negotiate as the popularity of the Lions’ Den grew,” a senior Fatah official in the old city of Nablus, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera.

He noted that the group had dozens of members and is made up of fighters between the ages of 18 and 25. “They found shelter in the narrow alleys and adjacent rooftops of the old town,” he continued, adding that many of them had served time. in PA prisons and Israeli prisons.

After-extinguishing resistance [Al Jazeera]
Israeli army drones with explosives used in the attack on Wadee al-Hawah .’s house [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Since February, a number of Lions’ Den fighters have either been killed or seriously wounded by Israel, or have handed themselves and their weapons over to the PA in exchange for an amnesty from Israel, provided they serve time in PA prisons. “They are being fought by two sides, the PA has told them to surrender their weapons,” the official said.

The PA has offered deals to Lions’ Den fighters, including employment in the security forces, similar to what happened at the end of the second Intifada in the 2000s.

“The PA presented Wadee with temptations,” Sabreen said. “During a meeting with officials two days before he was martyred, they told him we’ll give you a $6,000 salary if you work for us. You get a house and a car. He was completely against it,” she explained.

Clashes broke out between Palestinian fighters and PA security forces in central Nablus in September after the latter arrested two fighters, including Musab Shtayyeh, a member of the Lions’ Den and one of the most wanted on Israel’s wanted list. .

After-extinguishing resistance [Al Jazeera]
Photos of killed Lions’ Den members are pasted on the walls of the old city of Nablus [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Future of resistance

On October 23, days before the killing of the five men in Nablus and just meters from Wadee al-Hawah’s home, Palestinians accused Israel of killing Tamer Kilani, a commander in the Lions’ Den. A bomb placed on a motorcycle exploded as he walked by.

The Israeli military has not commented on Kilani’s death.

The 33-year-old fighter, who was publicly affiliated with the PFLP 9 The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), had defected from the PA presidential guard.

The dead fighter’s father, 56-year-old Sufian, was wearing a wire necklace with a photograph of Kilani and a photograph of Kilani in his hand. before being imprisoned by the PA for several months after his release.

“The men of this country are facing prison or martyrdom, so I expected this for Tamer any moment,” Sufian continued. “Tamer was 13 when he was wounded by live ammunition from the [Israeli] occupation forces during clashes, and 17 when he was first detained. I still have a picture of him as a teenager banging heads with an Israeli soldier in [the West Bank town of] Huwwara, who carries the Palestinian flag.”

After-extinguishing resistance
The motorcycle that exploded as Tamer Kilani walked by is in its place, a few meters from al-Hawah’s house [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

The killing of Wadee al-Hawah, Tamer Kilani and others before them was a blow to Lions’ Den, but new groups are emerging despite pressure from Israel and the PA.

Last week, the Balata Brigades, an armed group that emerged from the refugee camp in the city of Nablus, announced themselves to the public. Armed operations have also spread to the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron.

“The confidence of the fighters is not wavering,” the Fatah official in Nablus said. “The more young people they [Israel] murder, the more people want to join the resistance.”

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