Israeli soldier, militant die in raid; truce hit
An Israeli soldier and a Palestinian militant linked to a suicide bombing were killed in an army raid in the West Bank on Monday, further straining an already tenuous ceasefire.
Palestinian leaders condemned the army's raid as a violation of trust-building measures agreed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when they announced the truce at a peace summit in Egypt on Feb. 8.
The soldier and the militant died in a brief firefight during a raid to arrest two fugitive Islamic Jihad militants hiding in Sida village, near Tulkarm, which Israel handed to Palestinian security control in March as a peace gesture.
He recently escaped from a Palestinian jail where he had been held in connection with that attack.
The soldier was the first Israeli killed by Palestinians since militants formally agreed in March to abide by a truce. Another soldier was wounded, the army said.
Vowing revenge, Islamic Jihad fired three rockets toward the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip in a rare attack since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to the informal truce at the February summit. The rockets landed in an empty field.
"The new Zionist crime will not pass without punishment. (Islamic Jihad)'s Jerusalem Brigades reserves the right to react," the group said in a statement in the Gaza Strip.
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters: "The continuation of Israeli incursions and assassinations is seriously undermining and threatening the cessation of violence."
ISRAEL DEFENDS ATTEMPT TO ARREST MILITANT
But Israeli officials defended the operation, saying the army had the right to go after "ticking bombs" -- militants planning imminent attacks.
"Under no circumstances can Israel stop its efforts to protect our citizens by blocking attempted terrorist actions by the Palestinians," Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
The last time Israeli troops killed a militant was during a raid on the West Bank city of Nablus on April 14.
Tulkarm was one of two West Bank cities handed over to Palestinian Authority security control. On Sunday, the army said it had captured an Islamic Jihad member near the city who had been planning to carry out a suicide bombing.
Monday's rocket strike against Sderot raised the spectre of a resurgence of violence that could complicate Israel's planned withdrawal this summer from Gaza and the northern West Bank in a bid to "disengage" from the conflict with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to the region to assist the sides with peacemaking, urged Israel to give Abbas a chance to rein in militants.
Israel has demanded Abbas disarm militants rather than persuade them to voluntarily lay down their arms.
"I asked them (Israel) to support and to give a chance for ... President Mahmoud Abbas so that he can control and prevent the acts and the activities that Israel complains about," Erdogan told reporters after meeting Abbas in the West Bank.
Turkey is one of the few countries in the region to enjoy close relations with both Israel and the Palestinians.