Video: How an Israeli Raid on a Safe House Ended With Civilians Killed

When Israeli forces entered the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on the morning of Feb. 22, their goal was to apprehend three members of an armed Palestinian group in a single safe house. But after a firefight broke out with the three gunmen, chaos and violence spread well beyond the stated targets and into the busy surrounding streets.

Minutes after the rare and risky daytime raid began, additional support vehicles from Israel’s military and the police entered Nablus, establishing a perimeter around the old city, and blocking entry and exit points. Traveling in armored vehicles, the security forces were pelted with stones and oranges, and in some cases fired upon by other Palestinian gunmen.

The three men in the safe house and another gunman were killed. But in other cases, videos show that Israeli soldiers used deadly force against unarmed Palestinians, killing at least four people who did not appear to pose a threat.

In total, 11 people were killed and over 100 wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israel Defense Forces reported no injuries.

The operation came at a time when the situation in the West Bank has been rapidly deteriorating. One act of violence is typically responded to by another, accelerating a cycle of bloodshed. Palestinian officials said this was the deadliest start to a year there since 2000. Sixty-four Palestinians have been killed over the last two months, and at least 13 Israelis have been killed in the territory and Jerusalem.

The Times obtained security camera footage, witness video and testimony from multiple locations in Nablus, and reviewed posts and live streams from social media that captured the operation to establish where and when the raid and ensuing lethal action played out.

In response to questions from The Times, the I.D.F. said that “the circumstances” of the raid were under examination.

Just before 10 a.m., men who appeared to be undercover Israeli soldiers infiltrated the old city’s market area, two witnesses told The Times. A resident, Sahar Zalloum, 63, saw a stranger wearing a long gray robe underneath a coat. “I asked him if he needed anything,” Ms. Zalloum said. “He immediately pulled out a gun and said, ‘Go home.’”

A recent spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has stoked fears that tensions may further escalate.

A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, said the Army made the decision to conduct the raid during daytime — when streets and markets would be brimming with civilians — because they had to act fast on new intelligence about the gunmen’s location.

“In Nablus, you have a situation where you had a raid take place in the middle of the day, which is different than some of the other conduct,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “And it seems one of the end results of that was a lot of injuries.”

Videos show Israeli security forces in combat gear making their way on foot through the busy market and taking up positions in homes and on rooftops surrounding the safe house where three gunmen with the Lions’ Den militia — the targets of the raid — are sheltering. When they refuse to surrender, a firefight breaks out, and will continue for several hours.

By 10:15 a.m., Israeli reinforcements are entering Nablus along a main road, and crowds of local residents, angered by the Israelis’ presence across the old city, start congregating.

Nablus is technically under Palestinian control, but Israeli forces often run missions into the city to arrest members of armed groups like the Lions’ Den, which Israeli officials accuse of being involved in terrorist activities.

At an intersection about a quarter-mile north of the safe house, a group hurls stones and other objects at the passing convoy when one Israeli military vehicle suddenly swerves toward the gathering, narrowly missing several people on the street.

“They didn’t care if they hurt civilians,” said Amid al-Masry, a political leader in central Nablus.

Security camera footage of the same incident, captured at a nearby shop, shows that no one in the crowd appears to be carrying a firearm. A military spokesman said that the driver might have lost control of the vehicle accidentally because of heavy stone throwing.

Video from the nearby city center shows several Palestinian gunmen gathering and repeatedly firing rifles — though it’s not clear at what. Israeli support vehicles have also taken up positions in the area.

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Security camera footage shows that as one Palestinian fighter, Musab Awais, appears to take aim with a rifle at an Israeli vehicle across the street, he is shot and falls to the ground. Several men rush in to help. One man picks up his rifle. More shots are fired in their direction as they carry Mr. Awais, who later died, into an ambulance.

By this time, about half a mile away, Israeli military vehicles have spread along the southern edge of the old city. One rams a parked civilian car against a wall. Down the street, another vehicle plows through a makeshift barricade of steel dumpsters at an intersection, nearly hitting a person before crashing into a building.

Twenty minutes later, Muhammad Anbousi, 24, approaches the same intersection and, concealed by a parked car, sets off fireworks toward a military vehicle parked there, cellphone video obtained by The Times shows. A soldier inside the vehicle, about 85 yards away, shoots at Mr. Anbousi as he hides behind the car. He appears to sustain a leg injury. Photographs taken by The Times at the scene show the car riddled with bullet holes.

Mr. Anbousi calls for help, and another man, Jasser Qaneer, comes to his aid. A minute later, the two men begin running away from the Israeli vehicle. Mr. Anbousi is limping. They appear to be posing no threat to the Israeli forces when they are shot from behind. A military spokesman told The Times that the incident was under investigation.

“It’s difficult to see from the footage how Muhammad Anbousi or Jasser Qaneer posed any threat, much less the imminent threat to life that would justify the use of lethal force under international law, at the moment Israeli forces gunned them down,” said Mr. Shakir, the Human Rights Watch director. “This appears to be yet another case of Israeli forces using unlawful, excessive force.”

As Mr. Anbousi and Mr. Qaneer lie motionless on the pavement, the Israeli military vehicle pulls up to the scene and then backs away. Mr. Qaneer appears to have been shot in his head, and a video filmed several minutes later shows blood drenching the area around Mr. Anbousi’s chest.

Khaled Lidawi, a witness who helped retrieve the bodies of the two men, told The Times that Mr. Qaneer died instantly and that Mr. Anbousi was dead by the time a Palestinian ambulance arrived.

By now, around 12:30 p.m., Israeli forces begin withdrawing from Nablus. Video evidence shows that two bystanders are shot and killed as the vehicles are heading out.

A group of onlookers is gathered near a courtyard between Al-Rahma medical clinic and a mosque. A man standing along the sidewalk, separate from the group, appears to fire a shot at a passing Israeli vehicle.

He runs into the courtyard where others are standing. Two more armored vehicles drive by and fire multiple shots at the crowd. A military spokesman said that the soldiers were responding to live fire.

The flurry of bullets kill the 65-year-old Abd al-Hadi Ashqar, who had just left the mosque, and the 16-year-old Muhammad Shaaban, three clinic workers told The Times.

“If you look at this objectively, it’s clear that the security forces involved violated human rights law by indiscriminately firing on a group of bystanders and taking the lives of those who didn’t pose a threat,” said Sarah Harrison, a former Pentagon attorney who now works at the International Crisis Group as a senior analyst focused on military partnerships of the United States. By law, U.S. officials are required to evaluate footage like this to assess whether Israeli military units should remain eligible for security assistance, she added.

“It should be noted that this was an operational event during which armed gunmen fired massively at the soldiers, who responded with live fire,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement to The Times. “In addition, violent riots were instigated, in which suspects hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and explosive devices toward the forces.”

At the safe house, after an hourslong firefight, the three gunmen Israeli forces initially set out to apprehend are dead. But so are other local residents. Video shows Adnan Beara, 72, lying slain on the ground. He had visible injuries to his arm, neck and waist, a medic at the scene told J-Media Network, a local news agency.

“It shows the recklessness of the raid,” said Mr. al-Masry, the local political leader. “They didn’t think about the collateral damage.”

Video production by James Surdam. Additional reporting by John Ismay.