At least 20,000 Palestinians turned out for the afternoon funeral processions of three Nablus men assassinated by undercover Israeli forces during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, his minister of the interior, security forces chiefs, and several other Palestinian leaders travelled to Nablus to attend the wake.
The group began to gather outside the Rafediyah Hospital in the west end of Nablus’ city centre, where the bodies of the three men, Raed Sakarji, 38; Anan Subih, 33; and Ghassan Abu Sharkh, 40, were transferred when Israeli forces withdrew from the city.
Ghassan Abu Sharkh’s brother Nayif was a former Al-Aqsa leader in Nablus who was killed by the Israeli army several years ago (2004).
Mourners denounced ‘the execution’ of the men in or beside their own homes as a crime, and many were calling on the Palestinian Authority to change its policy toward Israel following this gruesome incident.
Mahmoud Al-A’lul, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, also attended the march, where he praised those who were killed in Nablus along with three others slain in an Israeli air strike in Gaza the same morning, saying, ‘The killing of three in Gaza is a clear message that Palestinian national unity is the response to Israeli crimes.’
Israeli officials released statements to the media claiming the men assassinated on Saturday were responsible for the shooting to death of a settler last Thursday.
The men were reportedly shot moments after they were detained by the soldiers.
Family members of three slain Fatah members gave testimony of the last moments of their loved ones’ lives on Saturday, hours after the men were assassinated by Israeli forces in their own homes in Nablus.
The wife of Raed Sakarji, now a widow, Tahani Ja’ara is 32 years old and seven months pregnant.
She said: ‘We were sleeping in our bedroom, not bigger than six square metres, when Israeli soldiers began yelling “get out, get out.” I thought I was dreaming.
‘When I heard the Israeli soldiers and their police dogs outside the room, that was when I realised it was real.’
Tahani said her husband told soldiers he would get out of the house, so they started shooting through the door and the windows.
‘He fell between my hands bleeding. I started crying “they killed him, they killed him.”
‘Then soldiers broke the door and got in. He was already dead, but they continued to riddle his body with bullets to make sure he was killed.’
Three months before his death, Sarakji opened a second-hand tools shop in the Old City of Nablus.
He had just been released from Israeli prison in January 2009 after spending seven years in jail. He was trying to restart his life, according to Tahani.
According to a statement from the Israeli military, Sarkaji was involved in the manufacture of explosives and the establishment of an explosives-manufacturing laboratory in Nablus.
Ghassan Abu Sharkh’s 16-year-old brother Diyaa Abu Sharkh saw him shot dead Saturday morning.
Diyaa said: ‘Everything happened very quickly . . . when we opened the door and saw the soldiers, two masked collaborators pointed to my brother Ghassan who was walking down the stairs.
‘Before I knew it he was being shot. I couldn’t really make sense of what was going on at all.
‘Then an Israeli officer asked me whether the dead man was Ghassan, and I said yes. “Good, then ask everybody to leave the house,” the officer said.
‘I was standing close to Ghassan when they killed him. They could have detained him very easily.
‘He joins my brother Nayif who was killed by Israeli forces a few years ago’ (2004).
Ghassan Abu Sharkh was a car electrician and owned a small workshop. He left behind a wife, three sons, and a daughter.
The Israeli military’s statement included no specific allegations against Ghassan, only his late brother.
Farid Subih is 45; his brother Anan was killed last Saturday morning in the Ras Al-Ain neighbourhood of Nablus.
Farid said: ‘At 3am, dozens of Israeli troops surrounded our four-storey building.
‘They blew open the main gate then started shooting randomly and throwing grenades in all directions.
‘Anan was inside, and he asked everybody to leave the building to avoid being hurt.’
He continued: ‘We headed to the nearby house of the Al-Amoudi family. Then soldiers entered the house with police dogs, and they started throwing more grenades, and a fire erupted in the warehouse full of plastic chairs and sponge material.
‘My brother was not armed, but we could see soldiers continue to ransack the house. For three hours, we didn’t know what was going on.
‘After the soldiers left, we found Anan dead . . . bullets tore all his body and bones.
‘They could have detained him, and he died believing he had been granted amnesty by Israeli forces.
‘He left behind a widow, two sons and five daughters,’ added Farid.
According to the Israeli military, Anan was killed after an exchange of fire and was ‘found in a hiding place along with weapons and ammunition’.
Anan had been affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Brigades years before, but he had been completely pardoned in an amnesty deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The same faction that claimed responsibility for shooting an Israeli settler on Thursday vowed on Saturday to retaliate for Israel’s assassination of the three Palestinians in Nablus the same morning.
‘The Imad Mughniya Group’, proclaiming affiliation to Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, said late Saturday evening that ‘retribution for the Israeli massacres in Gaza and Nablus will be equal in size to the crime.’
‘This massacre exposes the true face of the occupation,’ the group said in a new statement. ‘There is no option but resistance.’
As well as the raids and killings in the Old City of Nablus in the early hours of Saturday morning, three youths were also killed in Gaza overnight.
‘By this killing in Nablus and Gaza, the Israeli occupation has thrown open the doors of its own inferno,’ an Al-Aqsa Brigades spokesman calling himself Abu Mahmoud said in a prior statement following the escalation.
Nablus Deputy Governor Anan Al-Atira said that one of the three men killed, Anan Subih, was a former Al-Aqsa fighter who received full amnesty from Israel after he turned in his weapons, signed a form renouncing violence and spending months in Palestinian police protective custody while Israel OK’d the deal.
Sakarji and Abu Sarkh were evacuated to the Rafidia Hospital with several bullet wounds each in the chest. Sakarji’s wife was also taken to hospital to be treated for shrapnel injuries to her legs.
The Al-Aqsa spokesman said Israel’s actions would see their soldiers ‘face fire and blood as bombers operate in Israel day and night. The Israelis will regret what they did because our retaliation will come very soon.’
A second statement from another branch of the group, the ‘Martyr Tamir Al-Khateib Brigades,’ said: ‘Our attitude toward Jihad and resistance will not change, and the Israeli crime will not go unpunished.’
A statement from the Israeli military said soldiers ‘entered Nablus in an attempt to locate and arrest the men suspected of involvement in the murder of Meir Avshalom Hai this past Thursday.’
A spokeswoman also claimed the three slain ‘were responsible.’
‘The Israel Defence Forces will act firmly against those who aspire to harm citizens of the State of Israel and Israeli security forces, and will not rest until those involved in the murderous act are brought to justice,’ Israeli Major General Avi Mizrachi said in a statement.
In what was being billed as a response to the Thursday incident, Israeli forces imposed a curfew on the Ras Al-Ain neighbourhood before dawn, closed off all the exits from the Old City and laid siege to the Sakarji home.
Ghassan Hamdan, director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus, said that three Palestinian homes were besieged in the raid.
He confirmed that Sakarji was shot in the head and chest ‘before the very eyes of his wife.’ A second man, Abu Sharkh, was removed from his home and shot outside, Hamdan said.
Sakarji’s niece, 20-year-old Hind, said: ‘Israeli forces ransacked Raed Sakarji’s home and shot him in front of his pregnant wife and two children.
‘When his wife Tahani tried to defend him, she was hit in the feet with shrapnel.’
She also noted that her uncle had been released from Israeli jail in January 2009, and that he was on the waiting list for enrollment in the Palestinian Authority security services.
The home of Anan Subih in Ras El’ein was the third targeted location, where troops reportedly opened fire randomly on the building before entering.
According to the Israeli military’s claim, ‘When he was killed, Anan Tzubach (Subih) was armed with a handgun and hiding two M16 assault rifles, an additional handgun, and ammunition.’
The same statement, however, said that ‘During an attempt to arrest him tonight (Saturday), Annan was killed after an exchange of fire with the IDF while he was found in a hiding place along with weapons and ammunition.’
Eyewitnesses described the siege launched on Ksheikiyya street in the Ras El’ein neighborhood where Anan Subih lived.
Subih was an officer in the PA preventive security services in Nablus.
Anan’s brother Nidal said: ‘Dozens of Israeli soldiers ransacked Anan’s home at 3am firing gunshots and grenades, causing a fire to break out in the next door warehouse for plastic chairs.
‘The soldiers entered the building demanding Anan, and when we told them he was at work with the security forces the soldiers evacuated all nine families who live in the building.
‘We were gathered at the nearby home of the Al-Amoudi family.’
Jibreel Al-Bakri, governor of Nablus, described what happened in Nablus as a ‘crime in cold blood.’
He accused the Israeli government of escalating the violence in Palestine in order to avoid its commitment to the peace process.
A spokesperson from the office of the Palestinian president echoed the statement, saying Israel had decided to drag the Palestinian people to violence in order to avoid international pressure for peace.
Witnesses added that Israeli forces did not allow Palestinian firefighters to access the area to put out the blaze.