The Palestinian Authority's governor of the Nablus Governorate, Ibrahim Ramadan, stated that while he supports and "likes" the Lions' Den terrorist group, the group needs to be told "that's enough," in an interview with The New York Times on Saturday.
“We like them, yes. We support them, yes,” said Ramadan, adding, however, that “We have to say to them, ‘That’s enough.’”
The Lions' Den group first appeared last year in Nablus. It named its founder as Muhammad Azizi, who was killed in an IDF operation in the city in July. Azizi was also reportedly a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
While the first public statement about the group was made in September, the group was first detected by the Israeli defense establishment in July and members of the group claimed to the Times that it was founded in February 2022.
Since its founding, the group, which includes members from multiple Palestinian factions, has carried out a series of shooting attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians, including an attack in October in which IDF Staff-Sgt. Ido Baruch was murdered. The Israeli defense establishment and the Palestinian Authority have both worked to take down the terrorist organization.
In an IDF raid in Nablus late last month, 11 Palestinians were killed and over 100 others were injured in armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces. Leaders in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Lions' Den movements were among those killed, including members of the cell behind the attack in which Baruch was murdered.
According to the Times, there are only between 10-30 members left in the Lions' Den, as most of the members have either been killed or have turned themselves into the Palestinian Authority. In December, a Palestinian source told The Jerusalem Post that there were about 40-50 gunmen in the group.
Speaking out against Lions' Den
Ramadan and other PA officials have spoken out against the Lions' Den group in the past, sparking outrage from the group's supporters.
In October, the governor of Nablus told KAN news that the PA has "lost control of the Lion's Den."
"I'm not sure how this situation will continue, blood is spilled every day," added Ramadan to KAN. "I tried to get them to come to us out of fear for their lives because their elimination could happen at any time. They hesitated."
"I'm not sure how this situation will continue, blood is spilled every day."Ibrahim Ramadan
Ramadan also came under fire in October after attacking the mothers of Palestinian militants in an interview with the An-Najah radio station, saying "The mother is the one who shows tenderness and affection, however, there are abnormal mothers who send their sons to commit suicide, and show others that they are (the fighter). This is not a mother."
In the radio interview, the Nablus governor also called on Palestinian militants to hand over their weapons to the PA, saying "we are concerned for Palestinian blood, we are keen not to shed blood."
"I offered to protect them as much as we can, and there could be a solution with the other side regarding them, and there were discussions, and some of them agreed and some did not, and whoever agreed was accused of treason that he surrendered himself, and they embarrassed him," said Ramadan.
At the time, Fatah's spokesman for the Nablus region, Nasser Jawabreh, called the statements "irresponsible."
In November, a PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the Lions' Den group would "soon cease to exist."
“I can tell you for sure that the Lions’ Den is almost finished,” the official said at the time. “Their senior commanders agreed to lay down their weapons and are now staying with our security forces.”
One of the founders and leaders of the Lions' Den, Mosab Shtayyeh, was arrested by the PA in September, sparking violent protests by hundreds of Palestinians in Nablus demanding his release.
In December, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 72% of Palestinians support the formation of groups such as the Lions' Den which do not answer to the PA and 79% were against the surrender of these group to the PA. 55% of the respondents expressed support for another intifada.
Referring to the wave of terrorism which began rising last year, two members of the Lion's Den told the Times that "We are already in an intifada" and that the current situation is "an intifada without the Palestinian Authority."
In the Times article, Amid al-Masry, a community leader in Nablus from Fatah, stated that "For there to be a third intifada, there has to be a political decision that has not yet been taken."
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.