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‘Israeli forces were fired on from motorbikes, cars and rooftops’

Israel’s security forces have gone on high alert following a deadly counter-terror raid in Nablus, bracing for fresh terror attacks and rockets from Gaza.

Palestinians attack Israeli security personnel during a counter-terrorism operation in Nablus, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinians attack Israeli security personnel during a counter-terrorism operation in Nablus, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Israeli security forces were on high alert on Thursday following an Israeli counter-terror raid the previous day in Nablus in which 11 Palestinians were killed, most of them armed members of the Lions’ Den terror group.

Overnight Wednesday, Gazan terror factions fired six rockets at Ashkelon, Sderot and the surrounding area. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepted five, with the sixth landing in an open area. In response, the Israeli Air Force struck two Hamas facilities, in central and northern Gaza, according to the Israeli military.

One of the sites, that was used for weapons storage, was located next to multiple civilian facilities, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

“The compound is located adjacent to a mosque, medical center, school, hotel and police station. This serves as further evidence as to how the Hamas terrorist organization exploits the civilian population of the Gaza Strip by deliberately placing its assets in the heart of civilian areas,” said the IDF.

Wednesday’s counter-terror operation in Nablus was launched to arrest three individuals believed to be planning imminent terror attacks, and who were also suspected of involvement in the October 11 murder of IDF St.-Sgt. Ido Baruch, who was shot from a moving vehicle while securing a civilian march near Shavei Shomron in Samaria.

The four-hour operation began in the morning, when security forces raided a hideout in Nablus following an intelligence tip-off that three wanted terrorists were holed up there.

The three have been identified by the IDF as Hussam Isleem, 24, a leading member of Lions’ Den who according to the Israeli military dispatched Baruch’s murderers (who were arrested in Nablus last week), in addition to personally conducting multiple attacks; Mohammad Abdul Fattah 23, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative responsible for attacks on Israeli forces in Judea and Samaria; and Walid Riyad Dkhail, 23, another leading Lions’ Den operative, also responsible for attacks on military forces in the area.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency, 11 Palestinians were killed in the gun battle that erupted after Israeli forces came under attack, including two civilians aged 72 and 61, as well as a six-year-old.

Palestinian gunmen in Nablus, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

According to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, during the raid an inner circle comprising the Israel Police Counter-Terrorism Unit and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) was formed around the hideout, secured by an outer perimeter of soldiers. The suspects were called on surrender, at which point the joint Israeli security force came under fire from multiple directions, including from the hideout itself, he said.

One of the suspects attempted to flee while armed and was shot, while two others remained inside and traded fire with the Israeli forces, who fired shoulder-launched missiles at the structure, killing them, according to the spokesman.

Meanwhile, the force was also under fire from rooftops, motorbikes and vehicles, said Hecht, who described the perimeter force as being involved in a very heavy gun battle.

While the alert status has been increased to high across the country in the aftermath of the operation, Hecht said that there was no need to move additional forces to the area.

“We are always prepared. We’re not ramping up—we’re ready,” said Hecht, adding that the IDF does not seek an escalation. He added that “there are enough battalions in Judea and Samaria” to deal with potential escalations.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the military is looking into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the civilians.

Earlier this month, IFD Col. (res.) David Hacham, a senior research associate at the MirYam Institute and a former adviser on Arab affairs to seven Israeli defense ministers, told JNS that Hamas has been allowing sporadic rocket fire by PIJ from Gaza “to signify responses to events in Judea and Samaria in Jerusalem. It gives approval to Palestinian Islamic Jihad to fire, but sees this as a controlled escalation.”

“The situation in the Palestinian arena, with an emphasis on Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, is tense and fluid and could certainly develop into an escalatory scenario,” cautioned Hacham. “This is happening against the backdrop of the highly sensitive period of Ramadan, which begins in the second part of March, as the region becomes a powder keg. This is also combined with supreme sensitivity surrounding Temple Mount, especially during Ramadan,” he added.

As such, a new flare-up in Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem could cause Hamas to change its calculus and enter into an escalation, Hacham assessed.

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