- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli undercover troops burst into a West Bank vegetable market yesterday, seizing four fugitives and exchanging heavy fire with Palestinians in the first major raid since the Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to try to ease tensions.

Four Palestinian civilians were killed and 20 wounded in the fighting in Ramallah. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a harshly worded statement that Israel’s peace promises rang hollow in light of the raid and demanded $5 million in compensation for the damage to shops and cars in Ramallah.

“The continued aggression will only lead to the destruction of all efforts aimed at realizing peace,” he said.

In Gaza Strip, six Palestinians, including a senior security officer, were killed and more than a dozen wounded in fighting between gunmen loyal to the Islamic militant group Hamas and those allied with Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just after the Ramallah raid, apologized for any civilian casualties but said the operation was intended to protect Israel from terrorist attacks.

“Things developed in a way that could not have been predicted in advance. If innocent people were hurt, this was not our intention,” he said.

The summit had been intended to push for new Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts but was overshadowed by the violence.

Standing next to Mr. Olmert in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Mr. Mubarak condemned the raid in Ramallah.

“Israel’s security cannot be achieved through military force but by serious endeavors toward peace,” he said.

The raid, which turned downtown Ramallah into a battlefield with dozens of cars smashed and vegetable carts overturned, further undercut Mr. Abbas at a time when he is locked in an increasingly violent power struggle with Hamas.

The raid began when troops tried to arrest fugitives from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent Fatah offshoot, in the market. A gunbattle erupted, and Israeli forces sent reinforcements, including armored personnel carriers, bulldozers, jeeps and an attack helicopter.

For about two hours, a heavy battle raged, sending residents scrambling for cover. Bursts of gunfire, booms and ambulance sirens could be heard across Ramallah. At one point, a helicopter fired large-caliber bullets.

The apparent target of the raid, Rabih Hamed, was seriously injured. A photographer for the local news agency Maan was critically wounded by a gunshot to the head.

In the northern Gaza Strip, a senior Palestinian security officer allied with Fatah was killed when Hamas militants laid siege to his house, engaging in a protracted gunbattle with his guards and then attacking it with grenades and a dozen rockets, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

The officer, Col. Mohammed Ghayeb, was the chief of the Preventive Security Service in northern Gaza, and his death was expected to trigger revenge attacks.

Moments before his death, Col. Ghayeb was on the telephone to Palestine TV appealing for help as his house in Beit Lahiya came under attack.

“They are killers,” he said of the Hamas gunmen. “They are targeting the house; children are dying, they are bleeding. For God’s sake, send an ambulance; we want an ambulance, somebody move.”

The battle outside the house raged for much of the day and killed four of Col. Ghayeb’s guards and a Hamas gunman. About three dozen people, including eight children, were wounded.

During the standoff, dozens of women rushed into the streets in protest, chanting: “Spare the bullets, shame, shame.”

The persistent factional fighting — large-scale confrontations began in Gaza a month ago — is a result of the political deadlock between Hamas, which controls the Cabinet, and Mr. Abbas, who was elected separately and wields considerable power. Talks on power-sharing between Hamas and Fatah have failed, and Hamas has threatened to block any attempt by Mr. Abbas to call early elections. With both sides hardening their positions, truce attempts have collapsed repeatedly.

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