- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

JERUSALEM — Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants in a shootout yesterday, while Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement made an unexpectedly strong showing against rival Hamas in local elections in dozens of West Bank towns and villages.

Hamas complained that many of its candidates were detained by Israeli troops before Thursday’s election. The arrests are part of Israel’s weeklong campaign against militants, prompted by rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

Armed groups have threatened revenge, and an informal seven-month truce could collapse as a result of the escalation.

Pressing forward with the military campaign, Israeli soldiers raided the Balata refugee camp outside the West Bank city of Nablus early yesterday, searching for wanted Palestinians. Gunmen shot at the soldiers, who returned fired, the army said.

Two Palestinians were killed and another seriously injured, according to witnesses and Palestinian officials. The gunmen were from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group with ties to Fatah.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has said the wave of air strikes, arrests and targeted killings was meant to show militants that Israel would not tolerate any attacks from Gaza in the wake of its pullout from there earlier this month. Mr. Mofaz and top army commanders decided Thursday that strikes would continue at least for several more days.

In the West Bank, local elections were held Thursday in 104 towns and villages, with a total of 376,000 residents, or a little more than 10 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It was the third of four rounds of municipal elections. No date has been set for the final vote in the largest Palestinian cities.

Jamal Shobaki, head of the Local Elections Commission, said Fatah took control of 61 councils, while Hamas won 28.

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