Israeli forces kill 3 suspects in West Bank raids; 3 Palestinians die in Gaza strike

By Mohammed Daraghmeh, AP
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Israel kills 3 in West Bank raids

NABLUS, West Bank — Israeli soldiers stormed homes in the West Bank on Saturday, killing three Palestinians suspected in the fatal shooting of an Israeli and testing an uneasy security arrangement with Palestinian authorities.

The predawn operations in Nablus targeted activists of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. Abbas aides accused Israel of undermining U.S.-backed peace efforts.

Also, an Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians in Gaza, near Israel’s border barrier, making Saturday one of the deadliest days in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Israel’s war on Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers a year ago.

Relatives who witnessed the Nablus shootings said soldiers fired at two of the men without warning. An Israeli army spokesman, Maj. Peter Lerner, said troops fired after the three men failed to respond to calls to surrender. One of the men used his wife as a human shield, Lerner added.

The West Bank has been relatively calm in the past two years, as Abbas’ security forces began exerting control over former militant strongholds such as Nablus, and renewed some coordination with Israeli troops.

Abbas and Israel have a shared foe, Hamas, which wrested the Gaza Strip from Abbas in a 2007 takeover. However, Abbas has complained that continued Israeli army raids in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank undermine his authority.

Lerner said the raids had not been coordinated with Abbas’ security forces.

Abbas’ prime minister, Salam Fayyad, later made a condolence visit to Nablus. “This attack was a clear assassination, and I believe it is targeting our security and stability,” the pragmatic, Western-backed Fayyad told The Associated Press. Fayyad has been credited with restoring law and order in large areas of the West Bank.

On Thursday, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli settler in the West Bank. The Israeli military identified suspects in the shooting as 36-year-old Anan Subeh, 40-year-old Ghassan Abu Sharah and 40-year-old Raed Suragji, all members of Fatah’s militant offshoot, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Before dawn Saturday, dozens of Israeli troops entered Nablus’ old city.

Soldiers used explosives to blow open the door of the Abu Sharah family’s three-story apartment building, said Ghassan Abu Sharah’s brother, Jihad. The brother said that when Ghassan came downstairs, one of the soldiers opened fire and killed him.

Troops also used explosives at the home of Raed Suragji, said his wife, Tehani.

She said her husband opened the bedroom door.

“Suddenly, shots were fired at us,” she said. “He fell down. I started shouting. I held his head in my lap and sat on the ground.”

In the third raid, troops surrounded the home of Anan Subeh and ordered everyone to come out, said Subeh’s brother, Jamal. The family evacuated, but Anan Subeh stayed with a pistol and a rifle, according to his brother.

The army initially said soldiers exchanged fire with the wanted man, but Lerner said Subeh did not use his weapons. Troops found two pistols and two assault rifles in his possession.

Subeh had been accepted in Israel’s amnesty program for Fatah gunmen, according to Nablus’ deputy governor, Anan Attireh. Most Fatah gunmen are dead, in prison or retired, but those who remain active threatened revenge. “We will not stand idly by while our fighters are slaughtered,” said a group spokesman who identified himself as Abu Mahmoud.

In Nablus, thousands joined the funeral procession for the three men later Saturday.

“Why the coordination while we are under the bullets of the army?” chanted the angry crowd, referring to ties between Abbas’ security forces and the Israeli military.

Meanwhile, an air strike killed three Palestinians close to Israel’s northern border with Gaza.

The army said the three were hit after they ignored warning shots while approaching an Israeli passenger crossing.

Relatives of the three men, ages 19 and 20, said they had tried to sneak into Israel for work and were not affiliated with political groups.

Israel does not allow Palestinians to approach its border area with Gaza, fearing militants will stage attacks there. However, farmers and Palestinians searching for scrap metal also frequent the area.

Sunday marks the anniversary of the launch of Israel’s three-week military offensive in Gaza, meant to subdue Hamas and halt rocket fire on Israeli border towns. About 1,400 Gazans were killed, according to Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, along with 13 Israelis.


Additional reporting by Diaa Hadid in Gaza City.

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