JERUSALEM – An Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah that left four Palestinians dead and at least 20 wounded cast a pall over a summit meeting in Egypt on Thursday between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The raid, the biggest in Ramallah in months, triggered heavy street clashes that were shown live across the Middle East on the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, embarrassing the Egyptians as they prepared to receive Olmert and angering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said the military action belied Israeli pledges of peace.
At a joint news conference with Olmert after their meeting at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik to promote renewed peace efforts, Mubarak said he had protested the raid to the Israeli leader.
Olmert apologized for any civilian casualties but said Israel had to prevent attacks on its citizens.
The raid in Ramallah followed a recent meeting between Olmert and Abbas in which Israel announced a series of goodwill measures to bolster the Palestinian leader and create better conditions for resuming talks.
“This operation proves that Israeli calls for peace and security are false,” Abbas said in a harshly worded statement. “The continued aggression will only lead to the destruction of all efforts aimed at realizing peace.” Abbas demanded $5 million in compensation for damage to shops and cars caused by the Israeli operation.
The Israeli army said that undercover troops had gone into a building near Ramallah’s central square and shot and wounded an armed militant who was wanted for attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. The militant, identified by Palestinians as Rabih Hamed, a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, escaped. Another four suspects were detained but later released, the army said.
Army reinforcements sent to the scene clashed with Palestinian gunmen and youths who hurled rocks, cinderblocks and firebombs, the army said. Televised images of the fighting showed soldiers firing from inside armored jeeps and Palestinians evacuating casualties amid bursts of gunfire, the booms of stun grenades and the wail of ambulance sirens.
A helicopter gunship was called in and fired between buildings as a deterrent, the army said. Army bulldozers cleared cars out of the way and overturned some onto sidewalks. Dozens of the vehicles were damaged, along with shops and vegetable stands.
Palestinians identified the four people killed as civilians, one of them a restaurant worker and another a visitor from Jordan.