Associated Press WriterNABLUS, West Bank (AP) -- Israeli tanks fired at the Balata refugee camp Wednesday, killing a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia and three other Palestinians, witnesses and the military said.
Witnesses said Israeli forces on Mount Gerizim, overlooking the camp, fired shells at the camp cemetery, hitting three activists and a bystander. One of the dead was Mahmoud Titi, 30, leader of the militia, affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
The Israeli military said its forces killed Titi. In a statement, the military described Titi as a "senior terrorist" who was responsible for many attacks against Israelis. The statement said that after the attack, Israeli forces left Palestinian territory.
Palestinians picked up nail-like fragments indicating flechette shells, which are packed with thousands of darts for greater deadliness. Human rights groups say their use is against international law, but the Israeli military has admitted to using them in the past. The military had no immediate comment.
Israel has killed dozens of suspected Palestinian militants in what it calls "targeted operations." Palestinians call the attacks assassinations aimed at wiping out their leadership.
The other three dead in the Wednesday attack were identified by residents as Iyad Abu Hamdan, 22, and Imad Al-Khatib, 25, and a bystander.
Salah Sanakreh, 35, who lives near the scene, said he heard five tank shells explode. He said the bodies were mutilated by the blast.
The Al Aqsa group has claimed responsibility for many attacks against Israelis during nearly 20 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Militia members and leaders were key targets of Israel's recent large-scale military assault on the West Bank.
Titi took command of the Al Aqsa militia after Nasser Awais was arrested during the incursion. At first it was reported that Awais was killed in the fighting, but later he was detained in a nearby village by Israeli forces.
In a March 8 interview, Titi told The Associated Press that his goal was to build a Palestinian army that would hunt and kill Israeli soldiers and settlers. Until then, he said, his men were examining maps of Israel to pick out targets for attacks.
"Many of us know Israel very well and know the restaurants, cinemas and theaters," Titi said in the interview.
Fatah activist Kamal Tirawi admitted that the Israelis have killed the top local leaders of the Al Aqsa militia.
"There is nobody left from the main leaders but as you know, as long as the (Israeli) occupation is still around, the resistance will continue," he said, minutes after the attack.