Israel kills 2 Palestinian men in raid in West Bank


Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 9:54 p.m.
JERUSALEM - Israeli undercover troops killed a fugitive Islamic militant and a Palestinian night watchman in a two-hour gun battle Friday at a West Bank firehouse.
Israeli warplanes also made repeated reconnaissance flights deep into Lebanon for the second consecutive day Friday, acts that Lebanese officials claimed were aimed at escalating soaring Mideast tensions amid U.S. plans to attack Iraq.
Lebanese army gunners fired anti-aircraft artillery at the planes over Sidon, the provincial capital of southern Lebanon. Palestinian guerrillas in Ein el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest refugee camp on Sidon's outskirts, joined with volleys of automatic fire directed at the jets.
Israeli flights over southern Lebanon to monitor the movement of guerrillas are common, but Friday's overflights marked a departure from the usual Israeli sorties by venturing deeper into Lebanese territory.
In the West Bank town of Jenin, a 21-year-old wanted Hamas activist, Iyad Abu Lael, holed up in a firehouse with two other armed men as Israeli forces closed in on them, the Israeli military and Palestinian security officials said.
Troops ordered firefighters out one by one. The soldiers killed the Hamas activist as he ran from the building firing a weapon.
Gunbattles along the street left the fire station's walls and trucks scarred by bullets, and a 52-year-old night watchman was shot to death.
The military said two other suspected militants were arrested.
After daybreak, firefighters used bricks to encircle blood stains on the pavement. A grieving mother wrapped her arms around the dead Hamas man's blood-streaked face, his eyes wide open.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, soldiers blew up two houses belonging to other Palestinian militants.
Tanks kicked up dust and left a haze of tear gas hanging above tense streets, fractured into Jewish enclaves and Palestinian neighborhoods. Troops were expected to scour the city for militants behind shooting and bombing attacks during the next few weeks, military officials said, as part of a dragnet dubbed "Hot Winter."
On Thursday, army bulldozers flattened more than 100 stalls in a vegetable market in the city as tank gunners fired bursts from machine guns. In the last two months, 22 Israeli citizens and soldiers have been killed in and around Hebron.
Hebron, which surrounds a cave holy to the city's Muslims and Jews as the family crypt of the biblical Abraham, is a focus of constant tension.
About 450 Jewish settlers, many among the most militant in the West Bank, live in three enclaves, surrounded by about 130,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat suggested the Hebron operation was a sign of even tougher measures against the Palestinians after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's re-election victory earlier this week.
"Regretfully, they (the Israelis) declared immediately after finishing their election campaign that it is time to begin the so-called 'Hot Winter,' " Arafat said.
Israeli troops have been in control of most West Bank population centers since June, when Israel carried out a large-scale offensive in response to Palestinian suicide bombings.
In the Gaza Strip on Friday, nine children between the ages of 5 and 17 were hurt by shards of metal and debris sprayed by tank shells near the Jabaliya refugee camp, Palestinian security sources said. An army spokeswoman was checking that report and said tanks in Gaza fired on Palestinians trying to launch a rocket. She knew of no casualties.

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