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 surrounded by densely populated residential areas, the occupied West Bank city is nicknamed “Little Damascus” because of its architecture, arches and even local accents and food reminiscent of the Syrian capital. gives .

On a typical day, the smell of spices and handmade Nablus soap, the bright colors of clothes and the welcoming faces of people fill the narrow streets of the Ottoman-era Old City.

A massive Israeli military incursion targeting three suspected terrorists on Wednesday changed all that. A CNN team visited the city the day after the raid, to find residents looking every stranger in the eye, not welcoming, but worried about the reason for their visit.

The market was on strike in mourning for the 11 Palestinians killed the day before. Instead of selling their wares, business owners were collecting spent bullets from the streets, with bullet holes and bloodstains bearing witness to the violence of the day before.

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

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

Residents of the old city have faced several night-time military attacks over the past year, especially since the new Lion’s Den terrorist group began operating there.

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

“They came around 10 a.m., we understand that rush hour in a densely populated area,” said Ahmed Jibril, head of the Palestinian Red Crescent’s emergency and ambulance department in Nablus. Among the dead was a 72-year-old market trader who, Jibril alleged, “had 10 live bullets shot all over his body although he was not posing any threat.”

Amid Ahmed, a paramedic working to rescue the wounded, said it was the first time he had seen the Israeli army use weapons this week since the height of the last intifada in 2000.

“They were shooting randomly everywhere,” he said. “There was a very large number of injuries. Everything was so difficult – reaching the wounded, evacuating the wounded, everything was difficult because the area is very narrow and all were blocked by the army which prevented us from working.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an international spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, denied that Israeli soldiers were firing “indiscriminately,” saying, “The IDF only fires at threats.”

Another IDF spokesman, Major Nir Dinar, told CNN that he hoped it was not true that IDF forces prevented medics from reaching the wounded, and said he was “not aware of this type of behavior.”

Residents of Nablus say the raid involved undercover Israeli military operatives, one of the reasons they were so distrustful of strangers the next day.

The building of Nablus was damaged in this raid.

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

Sahar Zaloum was returning home from bringing her husband’s breakfast to his shop in the market, she said, when she was startled to see a man she believed to be an undercover operative at her door: “I heard some noises in the yard. I saw a man dressed as a sheikh sitting with a gun. He asked me to go inside the house. I ran home – it was scary, we didn’t dare look out of any of the windows, snipers were on all the roofs.

Zaloum and her husband escaped unharmed. But many were not so lucky.

Social media video shows at least two Israeli army vehicles near the entrance of a mosque, amid gunfire as a group of Palestinians emerges from the mosque.

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

The injured were transferred to the city’s Al Najah Hospital, where Ilyas Al-Ashkar is a nurse. A video captured him in the emergency room, shouting “my father, my father” when he realized one of the dead was his father, Abdul-Hadi al-Ashkar, 61.

“I couldn’t believe it, then I got closer,” he told CNN the next day. “I had a partner with me. I asked him if he saw 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 – the highest number at this point in a year since 2000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Israel says many of the dead are terrorists, or people who have attacked Israeli civilians or clashed with Israeli military forces.

But some of them – like Abd al-Hadi, father of Ilyas al-Ashkar – were just innocent bystanders.

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