Israelis kill two militants in West Bank
JERUSALEM – Israeli troops killed at least two Islamic Jihad militants in a raid in the West Bank on Sunday, hours after the group agreed to halt rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The killings set off renewed rocket firings. Three rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel, but they caused no damage or casualties, the military said.
The continuing clashes are the worst since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last month, and they are threatening to unravel a truce declared in February. Islamic Jihad threatened in a statement to attack Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip and it called on Palestinian factions to join forces in confronting the Israelis.
The surge of violence began early last week, when Israel killed a top Islamic Jihad commander in the West Bank. The group responded with rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Hadera that killed five people. The Israelis hit back with airstrikes in the Gaza Strip that killed nine Palestinians, militants and civilians.
On Sunday, Israeli troops in the West Bank surrounded the hideout of an Islamic Jihad militant in Qabatiya, the hometown of the bomber who struck in Hadera. Two militants were killed in exchanges of fire. One was identified as Jihad Zakarneh, accused by Israel of planning the Hadera bombing.
Militants fought troops near the surrounded house. At least seven Palestinians were wounded, two critically, hospital officials said.
The raid was part of an Israeli army campaign against Islamic Jihad that was launched after the Hadera bombing.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday that the operations against Islamic Jihad would continue until it “can no longer carry out suicide bombings.”
The West Bank raid followed a return to calm in the Gaza Strip after several days of militant rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes, artillery barrages and sonic booms that rattled windows in Palestinian neighborhoods.
Palestinian officials said that an understanding had been reached to stop the hostilities, but Israeli officials declined to confirm official agreement.
“Both sides have agreed to stop attacks,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, said: “If the enemy stops its attacks, our commitment to calm will be maintained.”