Six people, including the head of a rising militant group, have been killed after Israeli forces carried out a raid in Nablus in the West Bank, Palestinian authorities said.
Snipers, soldiers with shoulder-fired missiles and Shin Bet intelligence agents were deployed across the city, battling dozens of armed fighters in one of the biggest firefights in weeks, according to the Israeli military.
Glass and metal littered the Old City as shopkeepers cleared debris in the aftermath of the raid which the military said targeted an explosives manufacturing site of the “Den of Lions” group.
Authorities said 31-year-old Wadi al Houh, a Den of Lions leader allegedly responsible for producing pipe bombs and obtaining weapons, was the target of the operation and was killed.
The Den of Lions is a group of mainly young gunmen from Nablus which has grown rapidly over the past year and repeatedly clashed with Israeli forces in recent months.
In total, five Palestinians, including two members of the “Den of Lions”, were killed in the raid while a sixth man was killed in a protest near Ramallah, Palestinian health officials said.
At least 20 people, including some gunmen and members of the Palestinian security forces, were also wounded.
Mahmoud al Aloul, deputy chairman of the Fatah Movement, told Palestine TV that Palestinian security forces spotted Israeli undercover agents entering Nablus and a heavy exchange of fire followed, leading to several injuries among Palestinian Authority (PA) forces.
An Israeli military official said there was no intention to target any PA forces who may have been caught in the crossfire.
More than 100 Palestinians from the West Bank have been killed this year, while a string of fatal street attacks by Palestinians have killed 20 people in Israel and Israeli settlements.
Four members of Israel’s security forces have also been killed, an Israeli military official said, including at least one at the hands of the Den of Lions.
Palestinian officials say the Den of Lions emerged amid rising frustration among youths in Nablus at confrontations with Israeli settlers and the military but the group has no clear political goals.
A senior Den of Lions member, Tamer Kilani, was killed on Sunday in what Palestinians described as a targeted explosion carried out by Israel. The group has vowed to take revenge.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Mr Abbas’s office had reached out to the United States to intervene.