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Israel raids Palestinian bomber's town, kills cop
Tue Jul 12, 2005 10:04 PM ET

By Mu'in Shadid

TULKARM, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian policeman on Wednesday during a raid on a West Bank town in what the army called a retaliation for a suicide bombing that dealt a blow to a five-month-old ceasefire.

The predawn operation in Tulkarm came hours after an Islamic Jihad militant from the area blew himself up in the nearby Israeli city of Netanya. Two Israeli women were killed outright in that attack, and a third died in hospital, medics said.

Witnesses said some 20 military vehicles swept into Tulkarm, which had been formally under Palestinian Authority security control as part of a ceasefire declared by President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February.

Troops fired in the air and then at a Palestinian security post, killing a policeman in what witnesses called an unprovoked attack. Military sources said the army shot back after two soldiers were wounded by fire from Palestinian gunmen.

"This operation was mounted in order to carry out pinpoint arrests of the Islamic Jihad terrorists behind the Netanya suicide bombing that killed three Israeli civilians," a military source said.

Violence has fallen since the truce took hold, despite sporadic Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as shootings and mortar attacks by Islamist militants.

New bloodshed could complicate Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza next month, seen as a possible spur to peacemaking.

Abbas condemned the Netanya bombing as "idiotic," especially given the Gaza withdrawal plan, and vowed to punish the planners. Israel repeated its demand for him to dismantle the armed factions, words echoed by the White House.

BOMBER "COMMITTED TO CALM"

In a farewell video obtained by Reuters, black-clad bomber Ahmed Abu Khalil, an 18-year-old student from the Tulkarm area village of Attil, said: "We reiterate our commitment to calm, but we have to retaliate for Israeli violations."

The same cell of Jihad, which is committed to destroying the Jewish state, killed five Israelis in a Feb. 25 bombing in Tel Aviv. But that was before it and other factions agreed to follow a "period of calm" to the end of the year.

The Netanya blast came less than an hour after a Palestinian tried to set off a car bomb in Shavei Shomron, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. It misfired and only the driver was hurt. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Israel vowed to keep the upcoming withdrawals, billed by Sharon as "disengagement" from 4 1/2 years of fighting.

"The disengagement plan will go ahead on schedule," Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli television. "The question is whether the Palestinians want to be our partners for future peace talks. If they don't fight terrorism, we will."

Western countries hope the withdrawal could renew talks on a "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but Sharon insists there will be no negotiations until militants are disarmed.

The plan calls for Palestinians to dismantle militant groups, while Israel is meant to freeze settlement building. Neither side has met its commitments.

Palestinians fear the withdrawal plan will give them tiny, impoverished Gaza, while Israel strengthens its hold on much bigger West Bank settlements enclosed in a barrier it says can keep out bombers. Palestinians call the barrier a land-grab.


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