Killings cast shadow over Palestinian polls |
3 die in Israeli offensive
Three Palestinian militants were shot dead by the Israeli army in the West Bank yesterday, casting a shadow over municipal elections in the territory being contested by the radical Islamist group Hamas.
One of the main leaders of another armed faction, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said his movement was breaking off a truce after the killings, which ensured the sixth year of the Intifada began with a new round of funerals.
The spike in violence in the West Bank, which comes after a wave of bombings in Gaza, has punctured confidence engendered by Israel's recent round of pullouts from occupied Palestinian territory which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made clear was not about to be repeated.
Palestinian security sources said the three militants who were shot dead in the northern Jenin area included two members of Islamic Jihad and a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Samer al-Saadi.
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that three Palestinians had been killed "during exchanges of fire" in the latest phase of a mass arrest operation that was launched across the West Bank last weekend.
"We will no longer adhere to or respect the truce after the assassination of Samer al-Saadi," Zakaria al-Zubeidi, one of the most senior figures in the Al-Aqsa Brigades told AFP on Thursday.
"This crime cannot go unpunished and we will respond to it," added Zubeidi, who is one of Israel's most wanted men.
Al-Aqsa signed up to the truce in March during talks convened by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in Cairo.
Hamas is in theory observing the truce, reiterating its commitment to the always shaky agreement after a barrage of rocket attacks on Israel over the weekend launched from its Gaza Strip stronghold.
Israel, charging that Hamas is still using other groups to carry out proxy attacks, had been conducting a string of air strikes in recent days on the territory that its ground forces left little more than two weeks ago.