- Associated Press - Friday, October 8, 2010

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli troops killed two senior Hamas militants in an early-morning raid Friday in the West Bank city of Hebron, raising tensions as peace talks remain stuck over Israeli settlement building.

The two gunmen were wanted in connection with the killing of four Israelis near Hebron on Aug. 31, just as new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were getting under way, the Israeli military said. Media aligned with Hamas in the Gaza Strip also said the men were behind the Hebron shooting.

Israeli soldiers with jeeps and an armored bulldozer surrounded the house in Hebron before dawn. The military said the men rebuffed calls to surrender and began shooting at the troops outside. The soldiers then returned fire, killing both militants, the military said.

An AP photographer on the scene saw one body on the street outside. The bulldozer later demolished the three-story house.

The family that had been inside when the raid began was given time to leave before the gunbattle began.

Palestinian and Israeli security forces had been looking for the Hamas men since the four Israelis from a nearby settlement were shot and killed while driving on a road near Hebron, Palestinian security officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was not officially made public.

Hamas‘ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement vowing to avenge the deaths.

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group, confirmed that both of the men killed were senior members of the group’s armed wing. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Islamic organization had yet to officially identify the dead men.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rarely comments on individual military operations, released a statement praising the military for killing the militants and promising that Israel would “continue pursuing terrorists anytime and anywhere.”

In Gaza, thousands attended a rally in the town of Jebaliya to mourn the slain militants. Their deaths will be “the fuel for upcoming operations,” a prominent Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, told the crowd. He also accused the Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas, which wields limited power in the West Bank, of enabling the raid by cooperating with Israel. He also condemned Abbas for holding new peace talks with Israel.

Those negotiations, which began early last month, are currently deadlocked over the end of a temporary slowdown of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu has rebuffed pressure from the Palestinians, the U.S. and the international community to extend the building restrictions. The Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks if there is no extension.

Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss the talks at a meeting in Sirte, Libya, on Friday, and their position on the matter is expected to influence Abbas’ decision whether to continue the negotiations even without a slowdown extension.

Mr. Abbas and Israel both see Hamas as an enemy and have cooperated in cracking down on the group’s members in the West Bank. Hamas has threatened to use violence to derail the new negotiations, and the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinian president and the Israeli government has been accompanied by an uptick in violence.

Also Friday, clashes erupted in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is also home to families of Israeli settlers. One Palestinian boy throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles was lightly injured after being hit by a car he charged.

The car was driven by the head of a settler organization that buys up property for Jews in Silwan, Israeli media reported. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said he could not identify the man but said the driver was being questioned.

Story Continues →