Israel kills suspected Hamas leader

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
JERUSALEM - An Israeli tank shelled a house in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday, killing a suspected Hamas bombmaker whose work is blamed for the deaths of at least 100 Israelis in suicide bombings.
Israel also started building a towering electronic fence that will protect three sides of Jerusalem against Palestinian attacks, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on a visit to the area Sunday.
"I am happy that . . . we have started with the project," said Ben-Eliezer, who is also overseeing other security operations: the army's occupation of seven Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, and the dismantling of illegal, isolated Jewish settlements that are difficult for the army to defend.
In the assault in Nablus, the army said special forces killed Mohammed Tahir, described as a local leader of the militant Islamic Hamas movement. His attacks included the June 18 bombing of a Jerusalem bus that killed 19 and the June 1, 2001, attack on a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21, the army said.
Palestinians described Tahir as one of the leading bombmakers in the Hamas military wing. A Tahir aide was also killed and another Hamas activist was seriously wounded, the army said.
The Jerusalem fence, which will stretch 30 miles, is similar to one that will separate part of the West Bank from Israel further to the northwest. Construction on that fence began earlier this month, part of a larger plan to construct barriers that will completely separate Israel from the West Bank - a distance of about 215 miles.
Israel will first build the fence - at some points about 15 feet high - at the city's northern and southern ends, which should take about three months, said Amos Yaron, Defense Ministry director general. Later it will build the barrier along the city's east side.
Palestinians want east Jerusalem for a capital of a future state, and they oppose fencing off the city from the West Bank. Roadblocks already have made it difficult for Palestinians to visit Jerusalem since September 2000.
Palestinian attackers have launched frequent attacks in the area. Gunmen have fired from the West Bank at Gilo, a nearby Jewish neighborhood built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
Jerusalem has been hit harder than any other Israeli city during the Palestinian uprising, and security forces have set up barricades to keep West Bank Palestinians from reaching Jerusalem.
Since the beginning of 2002, 63 Israelis and foreigners have been killed in bombings, shootings and stabbings in Jerusalem.
The army on Sunday oversaw the evacuation of two tiny, unauthorized outposts for Jewish settlers in the southern West Bank, army radio reported. Ben-Eliezer said other illegal settlements would also be demolished. Israeli officials said settlers were cooperating with the actions.
Near the Beit Haggai settlement, two families living in one caravan were evacuated, according to a security guard at the settlement who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The caravan was about a half-mile away from Beit Haggai, but guards did not allow journalists from The Associated Press to approach.
The second illegal outpost was outside the settlement of Maaleh Hever, army radio said.
"Israel will close illegal settlements in the West Bank that are built without permission," said Arthur Lenk, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to the settlements, said about 40 illegal outposts have been established since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to power last year. Sharon has been a leading proponent of settlements for decades.
Most unauthorized outposts consist only of a few trailers set on West Bank hilltops, and critics say the need to defend them places too great a burden on the army and damages the prospects of an eventual deal with the Palestinians.
Israel has almost 150 government-authorized settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where about 210,000 Israelis live.
Settler groups claim that the new outposts are merely extensions of existing settlements and that removing them would be a "reward" for Palestinian terrorism.
Palestinians want all settlements evacuated and claim all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a future Palestinian state.
On Sunday, a bomb exploded on a railroad in central Israel as a passenger train passed by, damaging one carriage, but causing no serious injuries, police said.
The explosion took place just north of the town of Lod, and police said they believed that the device was planted during the night. A Palestinian was detained for questioning near the site of the explosion, police said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, meanwhile, said Sunday that Mideast diplomacy should focus on the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks rather than the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had said Friday that the Palestinian leadership had failed and that President Bush's call for Arafat's ouster "is universally recognized" among Arabs and other world leaders.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers on Sunday searched the ruins of the Palestinian government building that was blown up on Saturday, ending a four-day siege.
Israel said it believed about 15 militants who refused to surrender were still inside at the time of the controlled explosions, but the search has turned up no bodies. Palestinian officials doubt any Palestinians were in the buildings.

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