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Israel Raids Hamas Stronghold in W. Bank

Middle East: Fighting breaks out between troops and Palestinians. Witnesses report that three soldiers are killed.

August 27, 2000|From Times Wire Services

NABLUS, West Bank — Hundreds of Israeli troops raided an Islamic militant stronghold Saturday, and an Arabic TV station quoted witnesses as saying that three Israeli soldiers were killed.

Nine Israeli soldiers and several Palestinians were injured in the fighting in the West Bank, said Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV. The Israeli army declined to comment. Today's Jerusalem Post also reported Israeli casualties but was not specific.

Repeated bursts of gunfire were heard in the village of Assira Shamaliya late Saturday, residents told the Associated Press by telephone. Troops sealed the village, a stronghold of the Islamic militant group Hamas, and imposed a curfew, with hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and conducting house-to-house searches, the witnesses said.

It was not immediately clear why the army raided the village, which is home to Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the top Hamas fugitive in the West Bank. Abu Hanoud is believed to be the mastermind of two 1997 suicide bombings in Jerusalem that left 43 people dead, including five assailants.

The raid comes at a time of deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with both sides saying it is unlikely that they can meet a Sept. 13 deadline for a treaty.

Earlier this month, Israeli troops botched a raid on another West Bank village, killing an elderly Palestinian American who opened fire after mistaking the soldiers for burglars.

The raid on Assira Shamaliya began about 10 p.m., witnesses said.

The helicopters trained spotlights on the fields between the village and the nearby Palestinian town of Nablus in an apparent hunt for fugitives. One resident, Nidal Daglas, said he was standing on the roof of his home when he heard intense gunfire.

"I didn't know what was going on. I went downstairs, and when I was near the entrance of my home, I was hit in the leg by a bullet," he said.

Daglas said that soldiers initially refused to let ambulances into the village but that he eventually received medical treatment.

Abu Hanoud's sister-in-law, Riham, said troops did not come to her home. A Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Zahar, said he did not know whether Abu Hanoud had been captured.

At one point, hundreds of residents rushed into the streets despite the curfew. They burned several tires and chanted: "With our spirit and our blood, we will redeem you, Abu Hanoud!"

Assira Shamaliya is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, while Nablus is under full Palestinian jurisdiction, meaning that those seeking refuge there are out of the reach of the Israeli security forces.

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