The decision by a number of Lions’ Den gunmen to surrender to Palestinian Authority security forces is the result of immense pressure by both Israel and the PA.
The dramatic move is seen by some Palestinians as a first step toward the dismantlement of the armed group, which has caused many headaches for Israel and the authority.
But the surrender still does not mean the group is going to disappear in the coming days. It could take days or weeks before the remaining members of the Lions’ Den are persuaded to follow suit.
In the past few days, the gunmen, who are based in Nablus, saw how determined Israeli security forces are to hunt them down.
The group lost two of its top commanders: Tamer al-Kilani, who was killed in an explosion, and Wadi al-Houh, who was shot dead by Israeli troops during a raid on a bomb factory in the Old City of Nablus belonging to the terrorist group.
A day after the raid, the IDF arrested three Palestinians suspected of membership in the Lions’ Den, which has claimed responsibility for a series of shooting attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the Nablus area. Several other suspects were also arrested by Israeli security forces over the past few weeks.
In addition to the raids and arrests, the IDF has imposed a closure on Nablus and its surrounding towns and villages as part of the effort to thwart attacks by the group’s gunmen. The closure, which went into effect two weeks ago, has seriously affected the local economy and restricted the movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians in the city and its surroundings.
The Israeli measures have severely disrupted economic activities in the Nablus area, increasing the pressure not only on the gunmen, but also on many residents whose livelihoods have been badly affected. This, in turn, has increased the pressure from the Palestinian public on the Palestinian Authority to find a solution to the crisis.
Palestinian officials hold meetings with the gunmen
In the past few weeks, senior Palestinian officials held a number of meetings with the gunmen in an attempt to persuade them to lay down their weapons and surrender to the Palestinian security forces. Only a small number of them complied.
The presence of the gunmen on the streets of Nablus is seen as an indication that the PA has lost control of the situation.
The officials offered the gunmen jobs in the Palestinian security forces. The offer is similar to a deal the PA struck after the Second Intifada with gunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah faction.
Sources in Nablus said on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority stepped up the pressure on the gunmen after the killing of Kilani and Houh.
According to the sources, the PA has been facing pressure from Israel and some international parties, including the US, to rein in the gunmen.
The families of some of the gunmen are also said to have implored them to hand themselves over to the Palestinian security forces. Israeli authorities recently revoked permits that were given to their family members to work in Israel, a step that added to the pressure on the Lions’ Den group.
Mahmoud al-Bana surrenders to Palestinian security forces
Mahmoud al-Bana, one of the top commanders of the group who surrendered to the Palestinian security forces on Wednesday night, was believed to be strongly opposed to the offer.
He even threatened another member of the group, Tamer al-Sabi’, who recently agreed to lay down his arms in return for a job in the security forces.
Bana, however, appears to have changed his mind after he was injured during the Israeli raid on the group’s bomb factory earlier this week.
According to sources in Nablus, Bana was with Houh when the latter was killed by Israeli security forces on Tuesday.
Since then, at least four other Lions’ Den gunmen have followed suit and turned themselves in to the Palestinian security forces. They are now being held in “protective custody” as a way of avoiding being captured or killed by the IDF.
Although the Lions’ Den has tried to play down the significance of the move, Palestinians believe the countdown for the dismantlement of the armed group has begun.
It now remains to be seen whether more members will quit the group – and whether the Palestinian Authority will be able to convince hundreds of gunmen in the Jenin area to lay down their weapons.