Israel's counterterrorism operation in the West Bank city of Nablus early Tuesday resulted in the death of the leader of the newly emerged terror group that has been wreaking havoc in the area in the past few weeks, security officials said.
The raid on the home of Wadia Alhuh, who founded the Lion's Den, was a preplanned joint operation, closely observed by the chief of staff, and the head of the Shin Bet, as well as others.
Forces entered the city's ancient market area to target an apartment owned by the Alhuh, which was also a laboratory for the production of explosive devices, and destroyed it with missiles killing the terror chief and four other militants.
The militants, who believed the apartment was safe from Israeli attacks because of its location in the narrow streets, used the premises to launch their terror strikes and to prepare their explosive devices.
According to security officials, the operation was a message to others that there is no safe place for terrorists to operate or hide.
In the past two months, security forces have clashed with militants in Jenin and Nablus on a nightly basis, resulting in Palestinian casualties.
Security officials said the Lion's Den numbered no more than 30, with occasional additions to the group, and was responsible for some 20 attacks.
"This is not a well-organized squad," the officials said. "Until this operation, we killed two or three members of the group, arrested five and others were arrested by the PA," an official said.
"The killing earlier this week of another of the group's members and our continued pressure is meant to prevent the situation in Nablus from deteriorating to a similar security problem that Jenin has become," he said.
The officials noted that the three-hour operation caught the terrorists off guard and was carried out well. "As soon as we entered the area, riots broke out. With the intelligence information we had, forces carried out their mission well," said one official.
"We knew there were explosives in the apartment and that they would be used by the group, after the terrorists used similar devices in a number of previous attacks.
"Palestinian nationalists, who are not affiliated with any terror organizations, have been launching attacks. They are not well-organized and are not the best terrorists in the world," the officials said. "But because of their proximity to settlements, they are a challenge to deal with."
"Our message to them is that no matter where they are in the West Bank, there will be nowhere to hide and nowhere to strike," they said. "These are sensitive times and there may be more people who are motivated to act but we are on high alert and that fact, may dissuade them from taking action," he said.
According to the officials, the reports that a member of the Palestinian Authority security services was killed are erroneous. "There was no altercation with member of the PA," he said. "I am sure that in the long-run our operation in Nablus would prove advantageous to the PA."
Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the forces in a statement. "Our goal was, and remains, to inflict serious and continuous harm to terrorists in Jenin and Nablus, and to those sending them on their missions," Lapid said. "We will not ease our pressure for one minute. We will not allow such terror squads, which attack Israeli citizens and soldiers, to exist. "It must be clear that anyone who tries to harm us will pay in blood," Lapid said.