YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Israel Army Kills Six Palestinians

Mideast: Two Hamas militants are among the dead. Jewish state freezes its troop pullout despite renewed U.S. pressure for a withdrawal.


JERUSALEM — Israeli troops killed six Palestinians and arrested several others in operations across the West Bank on Wednesday, as officials said the army has frozen its pullout from Palestinian-controlled areas.

In the southern West Bank town of Hebron, a military commander of the Islamic militant group Hamas was blown apart by a missile fired from a helicopter gunship. Another Hamas militant died when a tank shell hit him as he stepped from his car in the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm. Two Palestinian policemen that Israel said were going to shoot at Jewish settlers were ambushed and killed by troops, and two Palestinian security officers were killed in a gun battle late Wednesday.

The Israeli actions came despite a renewed call by the State Department on Tuesday for Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian-ruled areas it reentered after Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi was assassinated Oct. 17. Under intense U.S. pressure, Israel withdrew Monday from Bethlehem and Beit Jala, but tanks and troops still hold positions on the outskirts of four towns.

The stepped-up Israeli hunt for militants increased tensions as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to arrive in Jerusalem today on a swing through the region to shore up support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Blair intends to add his weight to the U.S. calls for Israel to withdraw completely from the Palestinian areas it has reentered, to stop assassinating militants and to return to negotiations.

The prime minister is also expected to press Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to strictly enforce a cease-fire that both sides agreed to in September, and to arrest would-be bombers and gunmen.

Blair's visit comes as cracks widen in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's broad-based government. Sharon met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Wednesday night, trying to soothe relations strained by Peres' insistence that Israel quickly withdraw from Palestinian-ruled territories and by Sharon's refusal to reopen diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians until all attacks on Israelis halt.

Speaking to the World Jewish Congress, Sharon said Israel wants negotiations with the Palestinians. "Myself, I am going to lead those negotiations," he said. "I really believe in that."

Arafat and Peres are scheduled to attend an economic conference in Majorca, Spain, this weekend, and Peres told confidants that he will meet with the Palestinian leader there even if Sharon objects. Peres also told Israel Radio and Television that he intends to unveil a draft peace proposal soon.

According to Israeli media reports, Peres' plan calls for Israel to abandon its settlements in the Gaza Strip and negotiate the formation of a Palestinian state there. Sharon has publicly opposed the dismantling of any settlements and has said he believes Israel and the Palestinians should negotiate long-term interim arrangements instead of an overall settlement.

But any hope for diplomatic progress seemed far-fetched as the violence raged on. Militant Palestinian groups vowed to avenge Israel's latest "targeted killings" by launching new attacks. For the second consecutive day, Israeli police threw up roadblocks in the congested coastal plain, causing massive traffic jams in an effort to thwart what the intelligence services warned was an imminent terrorist attack.

But Palestinian officials said Israel's "targeted killings" and incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas will only make attacks more likely.

"Today's assassination is a clear message of Israeli insistence on keeping the region in the cycle of violence," said Col. Jibril Rajoub, head of West Bank security for the Palestinian Authority. He spoke after the first Hamas militant was killed Wednesday. "This serious escalation will lead to reaction. Israeli occupation authorities bear the responsibility of this escalation and its ramifications."

Jamil Jadallah, 25, one of the army's most wanted men, died when a helicopter gunship fired a rocket into a barn where he was hiding. Witnesses said his body was torn to pieces.

According to the army, Jadallah participated in dozens of recent attacks in Hebron and was planning another at the time of his killing. It said he helped plan the June suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv disco in which 22 people died.

Thousands attended his funeral, many of them masked Hamas militants chanting slogans against the Palestinian Authority as they fired hundreds of rounds in the air.

In Tulkarm, an Israeli tank fired on Hamas gunman Abdullah Jaroshi, 38, as he got out of his car. Jaroshi died of his wounds shortly after the attack. Israeli security sources said he was assembling a car bomb at the time of his killing.

Los Angeles Times Articles