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A New Kind of Palestinian Militia Is Emerging

SecondDepend on By the standards of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the night of 26 February was unprecedented. Hundreds of Israeli settlers have rampaged through Hawara, a Palestinian town of 7,000 south of Nablus in the West Bank. Hawala’s two brothers were outraged when they were shot earlier in the day. They set fire to houses and cars for hours on end. A Palestinian was shot dead (cause of the shooting unknown). For the most part, the Israeli army stood by. “They did fire tear gas at the Palestinians who were trying to come to help,” said one Palestinian, inspecting the blackened front door of his home.

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The gunman, who is currently unidentified, killed the settlers and is believed to be linked to a new Palestinian armed group, Lions’ Den, based in Nablus. It came after Israeli attacks around the city last year, notably the killing of 18-year-old Ibrahim Nabulsi by Israeli forces who led a then-unnamed group in a campaign against Israeli targets. A series of drive-by shootings. Lion’s Den has since claimed dozens of attacks in the West Bank, including the killing of an Israeli soldier in October. Support for it is being added. Posters of members killed by Israel line the market in Nablus. Shops in the West Bank sell pendants bearing Naboosi’s head. The group represents a new kind of Palestinian militant.

Unlike other militias, the group claims no ties to any Palestinian political party. It emerged in discontent with the Palestinian Authority (Pa), which called for nonviolent resistance in the face of increasingly deadly Israeli attacks and infighting between Palestinian factions. The group resists the carefully crafted agenda of Hamas and Fatah, said Mazen Dunbouk, a former leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a nationalist militant group affiliated with Fatah. “Their sole purpose is to resist the occupation.”

Israelis and Palestinians have found the group difficult to deal with because of its distinct and dynamic nature. There are no leaders to negotiate; deals made with some members may not work for others. “It is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will do anything against them,” Mr Dunbuke argued. “They are the voice of the streets of Palestine and the voice of the people. You cannot swim against the current.”

Lions’ Den is filling the leadership vacuum Pa, said Tahani Mustafa, a West Bank analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank. “Fatah has become so inclusive, it represents everything and nothing.” She said established groups that lacked local support had spiraled out of control. But when Lions’ Den calls for action, people respond.

Outsiders are growing concerned about the rising violence. Israeli and Palestinian security delegations met with U.S. and Egyptian officials in Jordan during the hawala attack in an attempt to de-escalate tensions ahead of Ramadan, which begins later this month.

Under pressure from Israel and the United States, Pa Trying to tame the lion den. It offered a salary in exchange for surrendering its weapons. Members wanted by Israel will be held in protective custody in Palestinian prisons. Some agreed. But others continued to fight.

More Israeli attacks on the group looked inevitable. But this will fuel radicalization, Ms Mustafa argues, rather than dampen it. And the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu, relying on far-right and ultra-religious voters, is adding fuel to the fire. Mr Netanyahu did not condemn the settler violence. He just told them not to take the law into their own hands.

Moreover, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition includes those who openly support the arsonist. Members of Parliament from the Jewish Power, led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, were also at the scene in Hawara. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the town should be “erased”. The next day, the party boycotted a meeting of the Knesset and instead went to an illegal settler outpost that the army was trying to evacuate and called for tougher measures against Palestinians. One party member said Mr Netanyahu had to be taken seriously “if he doesn’t want to see more incidents like hawala.” It was unclear if and how the prime minister would respond to such threats.

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