Hamas threatens revenge after Israelis raid West Bank

Saturday, August 9, 2003

NABLUS, West Bank -- Israeli troops raiding a West Bank bomb lab killed three Palestinians on Friday, including two Hamas members, prompting threats of revenge from the Islamic militant group's military wing. An Israeli soldier also died.

However, the five-week-old truce between Israelis and Palestinians was thought likely to survive. Hamas political leaders suggested privately they would not call off the cease-fire, and in public statements refrained from making threats against Israel.

The gunbattle marred a period of relative calm since Palestinian militants declared a unilateral cease-fire on June 29.

Also Friday, Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops traded artillery fire over a disputed area along the Israeli-Lebanese border. And an Israeli official said the course of an Israeli security barrier that has been condemned by the Palestinians and criticized by the United States might be altered to encompass less West Bank land.

Friday's firefight near Nablus in the northern West Bank began before dawn, when soldiers surrounded a Hamas hideout to arrest two suspected bombmakers, Khamis Abu Salem and Fayez Sadder, said the raid commander, Col. Arieh Knafo.

As the soldiers approached, shots rang out from inside the three-story apartment building, Knafo said. An Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Roi Oren, was killed.

The soldiers returned fire, killing one of the Hamas activists, and the second was buried under the rubble when an explosion tore through the building, which housed a bomb lab containing dozens of pounds of explosives, the colonel said.

A third Palestinian died in a hospital of a gunshot wound, hospital officials said. Witnesses said he was shot when soldiers fired on Palestinian stone-throwers during the raid.

The Israeli army denied using live ammunition.

Israel's "crime ... will not pass without paying a terrible price. We call on all our resistance cells to respond to this crime and teach the enemy a lesson," said a statement from Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam.

But Hamas political official Ismail Abu Shanab stopped short of saying the group -- which has carried out scores of suicide bombings against Israelis -- would call off the truce.

"The Israelis should bear responsibility for this attack and all of its consequences," he said.

Although the cease-fire has reduced violence dramatically, the Israeli military continues to send forces into West Bank towns and refugee camps to arrest Palestinian suspects.

In a separate incident Friday, Israeli troops moving through woodland on the edge of Jenin exchanged fire with armed Palestinians, Palestinian security sources said. Three Palestinians were wounded, one seriously.

Under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, Israel is supposed to withdraw gradually from Palestinian areas it occupied during the last three years of violence, and the Palestinians are supposed to disarm militant groups.

The three-month cease-fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad is due to expire in late September, and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that the army has been ordered to prepare for a possible resumption of violence.

Along the Israeli-Lebanese border Friday, Hezbollah guerrillas shelled Israeli army positions for the first time in eight months. Israel hit back with artillery and airstrikes, an Israeli army spokesman said. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

A Hezbollah statement said it was retaliating for last week's killing of Hezbollah security official Ali Hussein Saleh by a bomb in his car south of Beirut. Hezbollah blames Israel for his death.

Also Friday, an Israeli government source speaking on condition of anonymity said Israel might alter the route of the 370 mile series of fences, trenches, razor wire and concrete slabs being built between Israel and the West Bank.

Israel says the barrier is meant to fence out suicide bombers and other attackers. Palestinians say it is a land grab because parts plunge deep into the West Bank to include Jewish settlements on the "Israeli" side.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that if the fence "starts to intrude in a way that makes it more difficult for us to make the case for a viable Palestinian state ... it is appropriate for us to say to our Israeli friends, 'Look, we have a problem here."'

The Bush administration has been considering deducting the money Israel spends on the barrier from $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, but Powell said no decision has been made.

The Israeli source said Israel might agree not to encircle the large West Bank Jewish settlements of Ariel and Emmanuel in the center of the West Bank as planned.

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