Israeli army kills top militant, Hamas vows revenge
Tuesday, 29 July 2008

HEBRON, Sun Jul 27, ( - The Israeli army killed a top Hamas militant in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, prompting vows of revenge by the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip.

An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip went into effect last month, but Israeli raids against militants in the West Bank have touched off rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israeli towns.

The ceasefire, which does not apply to the West Bank, calls on Hamas to halt rocket fire in return for Israel gradually easing its embargo of the impoverished coastal territory.

In Sunday's operation in Hebron, Israeli soldiers fired at the house of Shihab al-Natsheh, a 25-year-old Hamas militant, after he refused to surrender and shot at troops, local residents said. An army bulldozer later razed the house.

Hamas's armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigade, vowed to avenge Natsheh's killing. "Our response will be swift and painful," it said in a statement.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said soldiers clashed with a group of gunmen in Hebron, killing one. She gave no details.

Palestinians said the Israeli army blocked all roads to the city, preventing anybody from leaving or entering.

Residents said Israel believed Natsheh was behind a suicide attack that killed an Israeli woman in the southern city of Dimona in February, and had been hunting him for months.

Natsheh's killing coincided with resurgent violence among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas launched a crackdown against rival armed militants after deadly bombings, including one on Friday that killed five Hamas gunmen and a girl.

Hamas police clashed with gunmen from the Army of Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group, in Gaza on Sunday, arresting two of them. A Hamas commander was seriously wounded in the fighting, Hamas officials and local residents said.

Friday's blast, the third of its kind in a day, marked one of the biggest internal flare-ups since Hamas seized Gaza from President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction a year ago.

Hamas blamed Fatah for the bomb attack and arrested at least 162 Fatah activists, including two officials.

Pro-Abbas security forces detained 15 Hamas activists, including two officials, in the West Bank city of Tulkarm on Sunday, Palestinian security officials said. They gave no reason for the arrests.

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