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Israeli Forces Shoot and Kill Palestinian Militant

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Palestinian militant accused of organizing a suicide bombing at a disco that killed 22 people was shot and killed by Israeli forces Sunday at his home in the West Bank.

The shooting of Abed-Rahman Hamad, a regional leader of the radical Islamic group Hamas, raised tensions and threatened to complicate efforts to shore up an unsteady Mideast truce. Hamas immediately vowed to strike against Israel.

However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Cabinet ministers he was prepared to ease some security restrictions against Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians planned security talks Sunday night, and if the meeting goes well, Israel said it was prepared to withdraw tanks and troops from parts of the volatile West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli forces took over two hilltop Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron two weeks ago following repeated shootings against Jewish settlers in the center of the city.

The Palestinians say they expect Israel to take a number of steps to ease travel restrictions. Sharon has been reluctant to take such measures, saying Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not done enough to crack down on Palestinian militants.

``The guiding principle is that wherever there is quiet, and the quiet continues, we will remove the (restrictions),'' said Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin. But he also warned, ``if the shooting is resumed, we will return immediately.''

Hamad was hit by two bullets while standing on the roof of his house in the town of Qalqilya, along the border between Israel and the West Bank. Palestinian authorities said they were unsure why he was on the roof.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged Israel was responsible.

Sharon's office released a statement saying Hamad orchestrated the June 1 suicide attack at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 22 people, mostly Israeli teen-agers.

Hamad was responsible for other deadly attacks and was organizing more, Israel said.

The shooting marked a return to Israel's policy of targeted killings. Over the past year, Israel has carried out dozens of such attacks against Palestinian militants suspected of violence against Israelis. Sunday's shooting was the first targeted attack since a cease-fire was declared Sept. 26.

The United States has been urging restraint on both sides as the Americans attempt to build support for their anti-terror campaign in Arab and Muslim countries.

``The assassination today is a clear indicator that all the Israeli claims that they want to achieve peace and uphold the cease-fire are just lies,'' said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. ``The Palestinians have to be aware that we should not trust their promises.''

Hamas, meanwhile, said it would strike against Israel for the shooting of Hamad.

``Resistance against this ugly aggression is the only language which can be used, and there is no doubt that Hamas will react to this ugly assassination crime in good time,'' said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas leader.

Several thousand Palestinians attended Hamad's funeral on Sunday afternoon. Gunmen fired into the air and some mourners carried leaflets that read, ``Revenge, revenge,'' and ``No to the cease-fire.''

Hamas has carried out multiple suicide bombings against Israel, including the disco bombing, the deadliest single attack in the current round of Mideast fighting.

The group has refused to honor the cease-fire and has claimed responsibility for attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

Arafat has demanded that Hamas and other militant groups observe the truce. However, Israel has said that Arafat must do more, including arresting suspected militants.

Israel had named Hamad as one of the militants it wanted arrested by Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians had arrested Hamad, but then released him about a month ago, Israel said.
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