By Mohammed Ballas JENIN, West Bank, AP
Israeli troops gunned down three Palestinian militants in a hospital parking lot in the West Bank town of Jenin on Wednesday, and blocked all entrances to Nablus’ crowded Old City with rubble and concrete blocks so they could pursue other wanted men in house-to-house searches.
Dozens of jeeps patrolled the narrow alleys of Nablus in the military’s second raid on the militant stronghold this week, enforcing a curfew that locked tens of thousands of people inside their homes. The Israeli army, which has uncovered three explosives labs in the city this week, says most of the suicide bombers in attempted attacks in 2006 came from the Nablus area, a militant stronghold.
In Jenin, Israeli undercover troops in a black car fired at a vehicle carrying the three gunmen, witnesses said. The army confirmed its troops killed the men, saying they had helped to plan an attempted suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that was thwarted last week.
Two of the militants were killed instantly, and the third, Ashraf Saadi, was shot dead after he scrambled out of the car and tried to escape, witnesses said. Saadi was the spokesman for Islamic Jihad, a militant group backed by Iran and Syria, and responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel.
The army said the troops tried to arrest Saadi but he opened fire on them. Troops returned fire, killing two militants and injuring Saadi. After Saadi fled, continuing to fire, the troops shot him dead, the army said. One soldier was slightly wounded by gunfire.
In the Gaza Strip, Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmad vowed retaliation.
“This new crime will not pass without tough punishment,” he said in a text message sent to reporters.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates the Palestinian parliament and government, also swore revenge.
In Nablus, dozens of jeeps backed by bulldozers carried soldiers back into the city at dawn, renewing an operation that was briefly halted on Tuesday after three days.
At least three bulldozers piled up rubble and large concrete blocks at all entrances to the Old City, a jumble of alleys and cramped apartment buildings. The curfew they clamped down confined more than 50,000 people to their homes.