Israeli Authorities Thwart Homicide Attacks

A car exploded and killed the two Palestinians inside as Israeli police moved to stop the vehicle, in one of three incidents Sunday in which Israeli authorities said they foiled homicide attacks.

Despite the tensions, the Israeli army withdrew its tanks and troops to the outskirts of the West bank town of Jenin after a two-week manhunt that ended with the killing Saturday of an Islamic Jihad militant accused of orchestrating attacks that killed more than 30 people.

In Sunday's car explosion, police spotted a car that aroused their suspicions near a collective farm, Kibbutz Netzer, just on the Israeli side of the border with the northern West Bank. Police shouted for the driver and his companion to stop.

The car blew up moments later, police said. It was not clear if the Palestinians detonated the bomb intentionally or by accident, police said.

Throughout the West Bank, Israeli troops have been in or near Palestinian cities for nearly five months, imposing curfews and tough restrictions on Palestinian movements in efforts to keep militants from launching attacks.

The number of attacks has declined. But the soldiers' presence has greatly disrupted Palestinian civilian life, and militants continue with attempts to carry out bombings and shootings, occasionally slipping past the Israeli dragnet.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has condemned homicide bombings, but says his security forces can't function with the Israeli troops currently controlling Palestinian areas.

The militant Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have carried out most of the 84 Palestinian homicide attacks over the past two years, say they will keep up their campaign.

In other developments Sunday, the army said it arrested two militants who allegedly planned bombings.

One, a 15-year-old from the West Bank city of Nablus, was on his way to carry out a homicide bombing when he was caught, the army said. The other was described as a senior Hamas member who was masterminding an attack from the West Bank town of Hebron.

In Jenin, where the army says it arrested dozens of suspected militants, about 1,000 troops pulled out of the city, abandoning 50 to 60 buildings used as observation posts and sniper positions, according to the army.

Life in Jenin regained a semblance of normalcy Sunday. Children went to school for the first time in two weeks. Shops reopened and bulldozers began removing rubble from at least six buildings demolished by the army.

The army entered Jenin to search for militants following an Oct. 21 homicide bombing by a pair of Islamic Jihad members who blew up their car next to a bus, killing 14 people.

The army found and killed the man it said was responsible for the bus bombing and an earlier bus attack that killed 17 people. The militant, Iyad Sawalha, was hiding in an apartment in Jenin's casbah, taking cover behind a wall in a kitchen, Israeli authorities said.

Soldiers charged into the apartment building, and Sawalha threw grenades and fired at troops, the Israelis said. Sawalha was killed after an operation that lasted five hours, and two soldiers were lightly injured, the army said.

Israeli troops entered seven of the eight main cities and towns in the West Bank in June, following a wave of Palestinian homicide bombings. In most places, Israeli troops either remain in those towns or on the outskirts.

Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians were preparing written responses to a U.S.-backed peace initiative that calls for a provisional Palestinian state by 2003 and a permanent state in 2005.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said Israel had some reservations about the plan, and would respond to the United States before the general election planned for January.

"We are going to sum up these reservations in a document," Saar said. "We have already worked in the last weeks on this document, we will continue to do so."

The Palestinians have said they will submit their response to U.S. envoy David Satterfield, who is to arrive in the region this week to discuss the "roadmap" with both sides.

In recent days, both Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been quoted in Israeli media as opposing the plan, but Sharon himself has been cautious on the issue, saying that Palestinian violence must stop before going ahead with any peace moves.

Netanyahu is challenging Sharon in a primary election for the leadership of the hawkish Likud Party. On Sunday, the party scheduled the vote for November 28. Polls suggest the Likud leader has the best chance of becoming prime minister after general elections expected in January.