Israeli troops kill four Palestinian gunmen
( 2004-02-02 16:07) (Agencies)
Israeli troops shot and killed four Palestinian gunmen on Monday during a raid in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah, Palestinian witnesses and medics said.
The Gaza bloodshed followed a rare raid into the West Bank town of Jericho on Sunday that left a wanted Palestinian dead, and weekend incursions into Bethlehem to carry out arrests after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 11 people last week.
The violence threatened to further undermine the latest U.S. attempt to convince Israel and the Palestinians to renew talks on a tattered road map to peace.
The army said three armed Palestinians were shot and killed in Rafah when troops entered the camp to arrest a senior Islamic militant in the area. It had no immediate report of a fourth death.
Palestinian witnesses said soldiers backed by tanks and helicopters entered Rafah before dawn on Monday under cover of heavy machine gunfire that drew response from Palestinian gunmen.
In the initial exchange, two armed Palestinians, a 19-year-old from the Islamic militant Hamas and a 35-year-old militant affiliated with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, were killed, Palestinian medics said.
During the arrest, Yasser Abu al-Aesh, a militant who lost a hand and leg during a bomb-making accident, opened fire at forces approaching his house, the witnesses said.
Al-Aesh, 35, and his 37-year-old brother, who was also armed, were killed in the ensuing clash, medics said.
The army said al-Aesh was shot and killed after he threw a grenade at the arresting force. It said a second gunman was killed as he fled the al-Aesh home and a third while shooting at forces from a position nearby.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said a threat by the militant Hamas group to kidnap Israeli soldiers strengthened Israel's resolve to go after Islamic militant leaders.
Mofaz spoke in response to Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's comment that the group would have to capture Israeli soldiers to insure the release of Palestinian prisoners.
"Yassin's statement makes it more imperative for Israel to attack the heads of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad," Mofaz told the weekly Cabinet meeting, according to an official who attended.
Israel has pursued a track-and-kill policy against militant leaders, killing dozens since the start of a Palestinian uprising three years ago. The strikes have drawn international censure.
Yassin spoke after Israel released hundreds of jailed Arabs, mostly Palestinians, in return for a kidnapped Israeli and three dead soldiers in a swap with the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah.
The exchange of threats and continued bloodshed appeared to crush any expectations that last week's visit to the region by a U.S. envoy would get Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.