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Israelis Kill 2 Palestinian Militants During Manhunt : Mideast: Hamas group leaders die in raids. In separate incident, Jewish settlers reportedly kill Arab woman.


JERUSALEM — Israeli troops, striking hard against the Palestinian force most bitterly opposed to peace, raided six hide-outs of the Islamic militant group Hamas in the occupied Gaza Strip on Saturday, pounding them with antitank missiles and killing two top commanders.

A sweeping Israeli manhunt for Hamas activists left at least 10 Gaza homes ruined or damaged, Palestinian journalists said. The army reported that it had made 16 arrests and killed the two Hamas leaders in a shootout.

The raids, the most ambitious of their kind since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a peace agreement on Sept. 13, underscored Israel's insistence that it will continue hunting Palestinian fugitives despite the accord.

That policy has brought angry protests from PLO leaders, who say it violates the spirit of the peace agreement and could jeopardize it altogether. They point out that PLO fighters have stopped their attacks on Israelis since the agreement was signed.

"We call on the Israeli leadership to put an end, with the maximum of energy, to these acts which poison the atmosphere," Mohammed Subieh, vice president of the Palestine National Council, the Parliament-in-exile, told the Reuters news agency in Tunis on Friday.

The attacks on Hamas activists, however, were less likely to spark PLO outrage because Hamas and other Islamic groupings are considered the most potent and dangerous opposition to the PLO and its agreement with Israel.

In fact, the Israeli army almost seemed to be doing the PLO a favor by eliminating some of its enemies.

The army also seemed to be catching gunmen while it still could, as it did with the arrest last week of the leader of the Black Panthers, a militant arm of the PLO's Fatah movement that was behind dozens of killings of suspected Palestinian collaborators and several Israeli deaths.

Under the interim agreement on self-rule signed in Washington, the army must begin withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, the two regions where the plan initially takes effect, in mid-December.

In another incident that underscored the fragility of the truce between Palestinians and Israelis, an elderly Palestinian woman was reported killed Saturday, shot as she was picking figs with a friend in a field near the Jewish settlement of Ofra on the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police were still investigating. But initial reports that Jewish settlers shot the woman threatened to unleash a typical round of retaliation between Arabs and Jews in the area, just when both sides are pressed to show that they can live in peace.

In the Israeli raids in Gaza, at least five Palestinians were wounded, local journalists said. The two dead militants were identified as a commander of Hamas' military arm, Hamed Salem Krinawi, 24, and his deputy, Moussa Saeed Saeed, 21.

Army spokesmen said the two had tortured and murdered fellow Palestinians believed to have collaborated with Israeli authorities and had ambushed Israeli soldiers.

The raids began early Saturday, in five of Gaza's squalid refugee camps and in Gaza City. Soldiers ringed buildings where they believed Hamas activists were holed up and ordered residents out. The troops were backed by helicopters and fired antitank missiles.

Hamas activists oppose the Sept. 13 agreement because they see it as offering too many concessions to Israel without getting enough in return.

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