JERUSALEM – Israeli troops on Thursday raided a West Bank (search) home and killed an armed Palestinian militant (search) who was planning attacks on Israelis, the army said, a development that could further destabilize a fragile truce.
Relations between Israelis and Palestinians are already tense because of an impasse over Israel's transfer of West Bank towns to Palestinian control. Thursday's killing could deepen the discord because Palestinian militants have halted attacks only on the condition that Israel (search) ends its hunts for wanted Palestinian men.
Family members identified the dead man as Mohammed Abu Hazneh, 28, a member of the radical Islamic Jihad group. Israeli security officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the man was behind the recent Tel Aviv suicide bombing that killed five Israelis. They said he was part of a cell that had also built a car bomb the Israelis disarmed last week and had been planning further attacks.
Nafez Azzam, an Islamic Jihad leader, warned that the killing "does not encourage us to continue the state of calmness that currently exists on the ground."
Speaking to The Associated Press by phone in the Gaza Strip, he said his group will discuss with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas how to proceed. "The resistance will continue in the face of the aggression practiced against our people," he added.
Troops entered the village of Nazlat al-Wusta near the West Bank town of Jenin in the early hours of the morning and surrounded Abu Hazneh's house, the army said.
After calling on him to surrender several times, the troops sent in a dog to flush him out. The fugitive killed the dog then opened fire on troops. Soldiers threw grenades inside the building to try to get him to leave the building and after that failed razed the home, the army said.
"We believe that the Israelis have committed to stop violence against Palestinians anywhere; these actions are only adding fuel to fire," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "Israel should let the Palestinian security forces do their job in these areas."
A spat over the transfer of the quiet town of Jericho to Palestinian security control was already threatening to undermine the month-old truce.
Israel has refused to take down its roadblocks north and south of the ancient town, as the Palestinians have demanded. Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz failed to settle the disagreement in talks on Tuesday, and two meetings of security commanders on Wednesday were no more successful.
The unexpected stalemate raised concerns that the two sides would have trouble working out far thornier issues down the road.
Washington's new envoy, William Ward, a U.S. Army general, was due to take up his new post on Thursday, and Paul Patin, spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, raised the possibility that Ward would intervene in the dispute.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia accused Israel of foot-dragging, and the militant Islamic Hamas group warned that Israel "would be held fully responsible for the consequences."
The disagreement over Jericho appears to focus mostly on a gleaming luxury casino and hotel just outside the city. Built in the heyday of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking in the mid-90s, the "Oasis" casino was forced to close after the outbreak of violence in 2000.
Most customers were Israelis, who flocked to Jericho, just 20 miles from Jerusalem, because casino gambling is illegal in Israel. A month after the start of fighting, Israel banned its citizens from entering Palestinian areas, and the casino took some gunfire.
With relations between the two sides improved since the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, many Palestinians in Jericho are hoping that the Israelis will come back — restoring jobs and boosting the town's battered tourism-based economy.
But the Israelis don't think the time is right yet. The ban on Israeli citizens entering Palestinian areas is still in force — and all that would stop them from streaming to the casino again is a roadblock the Palestinians want removed.
The Israelis also say that Vered Yericho, a nearby Jewish settlement of 160 residents, would be vulnerable to militant attacks if the roadblock were to be removed.
"Without lifting the roadblocks, the handover will be meaningless," said Erekat, who lives in Jericho, speaking by phone from Madrid.