Israeli troops kill 2 Hamas militants in raid on a house in the West Bank

By Matti Friedman, AP
Friday, October 8, 2010

2 militants dead in Israeli raid in West Bank

JERUSALEM — Israeli troops in the West Bank killed two senior Hamas militants, and a settler leader struck a rock-wielding Palestinian youth with his car Friday in disputed east Jerusalem as tensions rose over stalled peace talks.

Friction typically runs high in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan because several Jewish families have settled in the predominantly Palestinian area. The head of a settler organization that buys up property for Jews was driving through when his car was charged by several masked Palestinian protesters carrying rocks.

The driver, David Beeri of the Elad organization, swerved, then struck one of the boys, who was thrown onto the hood of the car and then somersaulted off. Beeri said the accident was unintentional, Israeli media reported.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Beeri was brought in for questioning. Media later reported that he was released on bail just before the Jewish Sabbath.

Police said the boy was lightly hurt and Israeli TV showed him being interviewed from a hospital bed in east Jerusalem.

Rioting erupted in east Jerusalem three weeks ago after a private Israeli security guard protecting Jewish families in Silwan killed a 32-year-old Palestinian man.

The two Hamas gunmen, killed in a raid in the West Bank city of Hebron, were involved in the shooting deaths of four Israelis near the city on Aug. 31, just as new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were getting under way, the Israeli military said. Media aligned with Hamas in the Gaza Strip also said the men were behind the Hebron shooting.

Soldiers with jeeps and an armored bulldozer surrounded the militants’ hideout before dawn. The military said the men rebuffed calls to surrender and began shooting at the troops outside. The soldiers then returned fire, killing both militants, the military said.

An AP photographer on the scene saw one body on the street outside. The bulldozer later demolished the three-story house.

The family that had been inside when the raid began was given time to leave before the gunbattle began.

Palestinian and Israeli security forces had been looking for the Hamas men since the four Israelis from a nearby settlement were shot and killed while driving on a road near Hebron, Palestinian security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not officially made public.

Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement vowing to avenge the deaths.

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group, confirmed that both of the men killed were senior members of the group’s armed wing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Islamic organization had yet to officially identify the dead men.

Later Friday, thousands rallied across Gaza to mourn the slain militants and denounce Israel. Their deaths will be “the fuel for upcoming operations,” a prominent Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, told the crowd in the town of Jebaliya. He also accused the West Bank government led by President Mahmoud Abbas of enabling the raid by cooperating with Israel. He also condemned Abbas for holding new peace talks with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rarely comments on individual military operations, released a statement praising the military for killing the militants and promising that Israel would “continue pursuing terrorists anytime and anywhere.”

Those negotiations, which began early last month, are currently deadlocked over the end of a temporary slowdown of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Netanyahu has rebuffed pressure from the Palestinians, the U.S. and the international community to extend the building restrictions. The Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks if there is no extension.

Arab foreign ministers discussed the talks at a meeting in Sirte, Libya, on Friday, and their position on the matter is expected to influence Abbas’ decision whether to continue the negotiations even without a slowdown extension.

Abbas and Israel both see Hamas as an enemy and have cooperated in cracking down on the group’s members in the West Bank. Hamas has threatened to use violence to derail the new negotiations, and the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinian president and the Israeli government has been accompanied by an uptick in violence.

Associated Press Writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza, and Nasser Shiyoukhi in Hebron, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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