Nablus: Israeli incursion shatters lives in ancient Middle Eastern city


Nablus, West Bank

The heart of occupied Nablus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. With two churches, 12 mosques and a Samaritan synagogue around densely populated residential areas, the occupied West Bank city is nicknamed “Little Damascus” for how its architecture, arches and even the local accent and food are reminiscent of that of the Syrian peoples. capital .

On a normal day, the smell of spices and handmade Nablus soap, the bright colors of fabrics and the welcoming faces of people fill the narrow alleyways of the Ottoman-era old town.

A massive Israeli military raid on Wednesday against three suspected militants changed that. A CNN team visited the town a day after that raid and found residents looking every stranger in the eye, not welcoming, but concerned about the reason for their visit.

The market went on strike, mourning the 11 Palestinians killed the day before. Instead of selling their wares, business owners collected used bullets in the alleyways, with bullet holes and bloodstains testifying to the violence of the previous day.

“We heard explosions and took shelter under the beds. We covered our ears with blankets,” said an old woman with trembling hands and a trembling voice, afraid to be identified. “I can’t even describe how shocking it was. We have seen death with our own eyes. We didn’t expect to get out of here alive.”

Bullet holes in a door testify to the previous day's violence.

Residents of the old city have suffered many nighttime military invasions in the past year, especially since the new militant group Lion’s Den began operating there.

But this week’s invasion came at a very unexpected time of day.

“They arrived around 10 a.m. We consider it rush hour in a densely populated area,” said Ahmad Jibril, head of the Emergency and Ambulance Department of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Nablus. Among the dead was a 72-year-old market trader who, Jibril claimed, “was shot with 10 live bullets all over his body, although he posed no threat whatsoever.”

Paramedic Amid Ahmad, who was rescuing the wounded, said this is the first time since the height of the last intifada in 2000 that he has seen the Israeli army using weapons like this week.

“They were firing randomly everywhere,” he said. “There was an extremely high number of injuries. Everything was so difficult – reaching the injured, evacuating the injured, everything was difficult because the area is very narrow and completely blocked by the army that prevented us from working.”

Israel Defense Forces international spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht denied that Israeli forces fired “indiscriminately,” saying, “The IDF only shoots at threats.”

Another IDF spokesman, Major Nir Dinar, told CNN he hoped it was not true that IDF troops had prevented medics from reaching the wounded, saying he was “unfamiliar with such behavior”.

Nablus residents say undercover Israeli military personnel were involved in the raid, one of the reasons they were so suspicious of strangers the next day.

This building in Nablus was damaged in the raid.

Bullet holes are seen in a car in Nablus, the day after the deadly robbery.

Sahar Zalloum came home from taking her husband’s breakfast to his shop in the market, she said, shocked to see a man she believed to be an undercover cop at the door of her house: “I heard some noises in the garden. I saw a man in sheikh clothing with a rifle. He asked me to enter the house. I ran home – it was terrifying, we didn’t dare look out of any window, snipers were on every roof.”

Zalloum and her husband survived unharmed. But many were not so lucky.

Video posted on social media appears to show at least two Israeli army vehicles at the entrance of a mosque, amid gunfire, as a group of Palestinians leave the mosque.

CNN asked the IDF about the video, but received only a generic statement in response, saying in part, “The circumstances of the event in the video are under investigation.”

The injured were taken to Al Najah Hospital in the city, where Elias Al-Ashqar is a nurse. A video showed him yelling “My dad, my dad” in the emergency room just as he realized one of the dead was his father Abdul-Hadi Al-Ashqar, 61.

“I didn’t believe it, then I got closer,” he told CNN the next day. “I had one of my colleagues with me. I asked him if he sees this dead man as my father. I looked around, waiting for someone to tell me I was wrong. But it was my father.”

Since the beginning of the year, 62 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry — the highest number currently in a year since the year 2000. Israel says many of the dead are militants , or people attacking Israeli civilians or clashing with Israeli forces.

But some of them — like Abdul-Hadi, Elias Al-Ashqar’s father — seem to have been just innocent bystanders.

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