PALESTINIAN militia leader killed in Hebron; Israeli troops deployed near West Bank town

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli undercover troops shot to death a Palestinian militia leader in an ambush in Hebron on Wednesday, hours after Israeli paratroopers took positions at the entrance of another West Bank town in a warning to Palestinian gunmen.

The militia leader, Emad Abu Sneineh, 25, was killed by a burst of fire as he got out of a car near his home, said Nabil Abu Sneineh, a relative. The shots were fired by undercover troops from a parked blue-and-white truck, which then drove into the Israeli-controlled sector of the city, the witness said.

Israeli security officials would not comment by name, but said privately that Abu Sneineh was killed by elite Israeli forces because he had been heavily involved in shooting attacks on Israelis in Hebron since the start of Israeli-Palestinian fighting 10 months ago. Israeli troops made no attempt to arrest him, the officials said.

Abu Sneineh was a local leader of Tanzim, a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. There were intermittent exchanges of fire between Tanzim gunmen and Israeli troops in Hebron in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, but it was not immediately known whether Abu Sneineh had participated.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Abu Sneineh ``had a lot of blood on his hands,'' but would not comment on Israel's role.

In recent months, Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinians, most suspected militants, in targeted attacks. Israel has said that killing the militants was often the only way to stop attacks on Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority said Israel engaged in terrorism, and that such killings ``shut the doors to possible political solutions.'' Cabinet Minister Nabil Amr said the Palestinians want the U.N. Security Council to debate the latest Israeli actions.

The targeted killings have been widely condemned, including by the United States, Israel's leading ally.

Sharon's office, meanwhile, announced that Israel has arrested several members of the militant Islamic Jihad group on suspicion they were planning to carry out a major suicide bombing near the Israeli port city of Haifa.

The suspects, residents of the West Bank town of Jenin, told investigators they had hidden a bomb in Israel. Sharon's office said Israeli agents found and defused the explosives.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber from the Jenin area blew himself up in a cafe near Haifa, injuring 20 Israelis. In response, Israeli tanks entered Jenin on Tuesday in the first raid of a Palestinian town since West Bank population centers were handed to Palestinian control in 1995. Israel has said it wanted to pressure the Palestinian Authority to arrest militants before they could strike.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker called Israel's incursion ``provocative.'' President Bush said he was worried violence would escalate. Arafat ``must clamp down on the suicide bombers,'' Bush said Tuesday, ``and the Israelis must show restraint.''

Tuesday evening, Israeli troops and armored personnel carriers took position at the entrance to the West Bank town of Beit Jalla, following a heavy exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and soldiers protecting nearby Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to Jerusalem.

Israeli troops stopped short of entering Beit Jalla. It was not clear whether Israel had intended to enter the town, and the incursion was aborted at the last minute, or whether the troop buildup was intended as a warning from the start.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he did not act under pressure from the United States or Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres when he decided to hold off on immediate retaliation for the shooting attacks on Gilo.

``I decided to give a chance to the quiet that was promised by the other side,'' Ben-Eliezer said. ``Information reached me that Yasser Arafat is making every effort to stop it (the shooting), and it stopped.''

Sharon met with the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, David Satterfield, on Tuesday evening and told him Israel would no longer tolerate shooting attacks on Gilo, Israeli officials said.

Earlier in the day, Sharon had warned that if violence continues, ``the Palestinians will lose additional assets, and they have something to lose.''