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An Israeli raid on West Bank targeted a new Palestinian militia

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This year has been the deadliest that Palestinians have experienced for many years in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And today, they saw the single bloodiest confrontation yet. Many thousands of Palestinians gathered for a funeral march, shooting guns in the air. This is what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

CHANG: They were honoring five Palestinians killed today in an Israeli special forces operation targeting the Lion's Den. They're new militant group of young Palestinian men. We have NPR's Daniel Estrin on the line. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what exactly happened today?

ESTRIN: This was a rare Israeli operation in the kasbah of Nablus. This is the old city, which during the day is a pretty colorful place. These are shops that sell specialty cheese, desserts and halva. But this is also a place that provides cover for armed militants with all of their narrow alleyways. And so usually Israeli troops don't enter the kasbah of Nablus. But today before dawn, they did. Israeli troops used shoulder-launched missiles. Israel says it also shot at Palestinians throwing stones at troops. And the result - five Palestinians killed in one Israeli operation. That is a very big number. Israel says it was targeting the leader of the Lion's Den.

CHANG: And tell us more about the Lion's Den because this is a group that we haven't heard much about yet.

ESTRIN: Right. It's a renegade band of young teens and men in their 20s mostly in the city of Nablus. They are approximately about 50 or 100 of them only; so small in number but very big in influence. They have been taking up arms and shooting at Israeli military positions. Israel says they killed a soldier recently. And when I speak to activists in Nablus - even I spoke to the father of one of these militants - people there say that these are young men, part of a young generation of Palestinians, who feel that they simply have little to lose. They have come of age in a hopeless time for Palestinians under occupation. They experience friction with settlers and soldiers. They have enormous contempt for the aging Palestinian leadership, which they don't see as offering them any way forward, any future, any hope. They feel that they are not being protected from army raids. And so they say to their own police, well, if you don't protect us, we will. And so they take up guns, and that's what we're seeing.

CHANG: Well, then what now, after this deadly raid? Like, are we looking at the start of some kind of Palestinian uprising, you think?

ESTRIN: This is not the level of what we saw in the early 2000s, the intifada, when we saw suicide bombings and massive Israeli incursions. This is more of a dynamic of a vacuum of leadership in the West Bank. And this also provides a glimpse of what may yet to come. We are seeing the old guard, the Palestinian Authority, losing credibility. They have been for years, but they are losing control now over many parts of the West Bank. And these young militants are becoming more assertive. And they're going viral on TikTok. Recently, this group, the Lion's Den, made calls in social media - go out at a certain time and shout, God is greatest. And many Palestinians did. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: And so the real significance of this armed group is not its low numbers or the pretty low level of deadly violence that it has committed. The significance, Ailsa, is the inspiration that they spark in Palestinians throughout the West Bank. They are stars. They're considered heroes.

CHANG: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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