The Daily Star
July 28, 2008 - 4:35pm

Israeli forces killed a top Hamas operative in an early morning gunfight in the southern Occupied West Bank city of Hebron, according to Palestinian security officials who said another three people were arrested in the raid. Hamas' armed wing vowed to take revenge for the killing of Shihab al-Natshe, who Israeli media reported was behind a suicide bombing in February that killed an Israeli woman and wounded 11 other people.

The Israeli military confirmed killing an armed Palestinian in an exchange of fire in Hebron but would not elaborate on the incident.

An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip went into effect last month, but Israeli raids against militants in the Occupied West Bank have touched off rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israeli towns.

The cease-fire, which does not apply to the Occupied West Bank, calls on Hamas to halt rocket fire at the Jewish state in return for Israel gradually easing its embargo of the impoverished coastal territory.

In Sunday's operation in Hebron, Israeli soldiers fired at the house of Natshe, 25, after he refused to surrender and shot at troops, local residents said. An army bulldozer later razed the dwelling. The militant's mangled body was seen being removed from the rubble.

Hamas' armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, vowed to avenge the resistance fighter's killing. "Our response will be swift and painful," it said in a statement.

The statement, which said Natshe was a group member who fought troops for 12 hours before he was killed, added that retaliation would take place "at the time and place we choose."

Palestinians said the Israeli army blocked all roads to the city, preventing anybody from leaving or entering.

Residents said Israel believed Natshe was behind a suicide attack that killed an Israeli woman in the southern city of Dimona in February, and had been hunting him for months.

Natshe's killing coincided with resurgent violence among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas launched a crackdown against rival militants after deadly bombings, including one on Friday that killed five Hamas members and a girl.

Hamas blamed Fatah for the bomb attack and arrested at least 162 Fatah activists, including two officials.

Pro-Abbas security forces detained 15 Hamas activists, including two officials, in the Occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm on Sunday, Palestinian security officials said. The officials gave no reason for the arrests.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017