Who are the Lions’ Den armed group in the occupied West Bank? #LionsDen #FreePalestine #BDS #NoJusticeNoPeace #RespectExistenceOrExpectResistance

Who are the Lions’ Den armed group in the occupied West Bank? | AL JAZEERA | 26 Oct 2022

The newly-emerged group has claimed several attacks against Israelis and says it aims to unite Palestinians.

A member of The Lions' Den group escort injured men into a hospital after clashes with Israeli forces in Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, early on October 25
A member of the Lions’ Den group escorts injured men into a hospital after Israeli forces raided Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, early on October 25, 2022 [Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP]

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.

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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.

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.
    Ibrahim al-Nabulsi
    Ibrahim al-Nabulsi [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]
  • 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.
    People gather outside the house of Palestinian group Lions' Den member Wadee Al-HouhPeople gather outside the house of Lions’ Den member Wadee al-Hawah, which was targeted during a raid by Israeli forces, in Nablus in the West Bank, October 25, 2022 [Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]
  • 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.

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Syria has accepted the return of the “Hamas” movement after more than ten years of a boycott due to the Palestinian group’s support of the regime change in Damascus and the membership of many militants of the Takfiri groups. However, the return of Hamas to one of the most important members of the “Axis of Resistance” indicates its will to put behind it all differences and work for the unification of the Palestinian groups in their legitimate struggle to have their own state. The Syria-Hamas unification was possible only following an Iranian mediation and the personnel role of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who met with President Bashar al-Assad for this purpose and other issues of concern to both sides. But that was not the only attempt to unify the Palestinians: Algeria held a meeting for all Palestinian groups and reached an agreement to put their internal differences behind them and prepare for a new election in a year. 

These unification steps have also coincided with the uprising of a new movement in Palestine. “Areen al Usud” (the Lion’s Den) paced the foundation for a new Palestinian young generation that is teaching the old generation a good lesson about how the freedom and unity of Palestinians come before all personal or organisational objectives. The new developments in Palestine, Algeria and Syria, are naturally a source of worry to the Gulf countries who normalised with Israel. The Arabs are receiving a direct message from Palestine that the Palestinians have the right to live with dignity and determine their future. The armed struggle will take over the 1990’s Oslo agreement, even though it is already buried.

A few years ago, in a private meeting, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressed that “the West Bank must be armed, and weapons must be delivered to it, and expertise must be shared and transferred by all available methods.” Sayyed Khamenei’s words are law in Iran, mainly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Brigade, responsible for supporting all oppressed people, particularly the Palestinians.

Earlier this year, Israel bombed Iranian command and control sites at Syria’s T4 military airport, killing three Iranian officers who controlled the advanced drones. According to private sources, the Iranian drones regularly transported military equipment to Palestine. They repeatedly landed in several areas until Israel was able to discover their trips and decided to attack the launch source in Syria.

Israel’s bet, as well as many Arab countries, is that new Palestinian generations will forget about their ancestors’ territory and not claim back the land. Israel has continued to deprive the Palestinian people of their most basic human rights- with the support of the western community. This has enormously contributed to the birth of the new organisation from the West Bank, Nablus, and Jenin called “The Lions’ Den”, which has become an essential group in the resistance equation.

The “Lions’ Den” recruits volunteers to attack the occupying Israeli soldiers and settlers. It appeared as organised, self-managed and endowed with advanced armaments. It enjoys comprehensive popular support, glorifying all resistance groups and their leaders without discrimination. The “Lions’ Den” praised Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Yassin, Abu Ali Mustafa, Fathi al-Shaqaqi and all the martyr leaders of the Palestinian cause against the occupiers. This indicates the common ground of all leaders from different walks of life to free Palestine, which fits with the “Lions’ Den” objective it is advertising.

The most significant step taken by the “Lions’ Den” was to invite the Palestinian security services in the West Bank to either join its ranks and cause or to cease any cooperation with Israel in security matters. The many years of the Israeli-Palestinian Authority years of collaboration have led to the arrest of dozens of resistance fighters or revealed their exposure to Israeli intelligence. A recent clash occurred between the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and the “Lions’ Den” following the arrest of resistance fighters wanted by Israel, such as Musab Shtayyeh and members of the Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas). This is why it is essential for all Palestinian resistance groups to ensure the end of any form of collaboration with Israel.

The “Lions’ Den” militants are dressed in black and carry a red material covering the gun barrel, indicating that bullets will not be fired in vain except to kill the occupiers. Their slogan is to support a collective revolution to restore rights, fight and eliminate the racist apartheid regime and end oppression and occupation, supporting the desire of all Palestinian peoples without exception.

The group enjoys comprehensive popular support, as demonstrated by the attendance of thousands at the memorial service for one of the elements who was martyred while fighting against the Israelis.

The “Lions’ Den” established a spiritual and moral unity that had not been seen for a long time in the Palestinian territories, divided for years. This new phenomenon emerged following Hams’ battle of the “Sword of Jerusalem” and the battle of “Unity of all fronts” led by the “Islamic Jihad”. The Palestinians are convinced more than ever before that it is possible to challenge Israel, notwithstanding its substantial military apparatus: the security of the Israelis can be put in jeopardy all over Palestine.

“The Lions’ Den” presented its program: to ”follow in the footsteps of the martyrs, not give up the armed struggle, crush the agents of Israel, not waste bullets by firing in the air during any ceremony but direct the guns towards the Israelis. All Palestinians are brothers, including the members of the security services.”

The Israeli security services seem incapable of confronting this group, which is presenting a new concept, does not operate under a specific banner, belongs to a young generation that is ready to fight, and does not beg for money or political gain. The group said it is fighting “an enemy who only understands the language of force and deterrence and who excels in deception.” The group considers that Israel has evaded all previous accords and negotiations with the Palestinians and really wants to expel all Palestinians from the country.

Israel is trying to eliminate all the founders and members of “The Lions’ Den” for fear of the spread of this phenomenon and its transformation into a model to be emulated in other cities. For Israel, the most critical situation is the spread of the resistance fighters in the West Bank, which represents the most dangerous security challenge since the 2005 Intifada,” said the former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Private sources said that “Israel has withdrawn six battalions from the border with Lebanon due to the critical situation in the West Bank and its concern that the situation could get out of control.”

There is undoubtedly a new movement rising in Palestine and inspiring Palestinians all over the world. Indeed, the hashtag “We are all the Lion’s Den” has dominated social networks, proving that the group has won the hearts and minds of the people. It seems to represent the driving force of the rising Palestinian youth, which terrifies the most powerful military in the Middle East and threatens it through its ideology of rejecting all forms of occupation. The real message of the “Lions’ Den” is simple: there is no return from the armed struggle, no backing down. Israel is facing an unusual new era.

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