TULKAREM, West Bank – Militants said Thursday they will renew attacks on Israel (search), despite a six-month cease-fire, after Israeli soldiers killed five Palestinians, at least three of them armed, in a West Bank arrest raid.
The killings and the threat of revenge ended a lull that accompanied Israel's just-completed withdrawal from 25 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip (search) and West Bank.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (search) said the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — will meet Sept. 20 in New York to discuss establishing Palestinian control over the evacuated settlements.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urged militants to hold their fire and respect the cease-fire but also accused Israel of intentional provocation. Troops were targeting fugitives from the Islamic Jihad group, which carried out two homicide bombings in Israel in recent months.
The arrest raid late Wednesday came hours after a Palestinian stabbed and killed an ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary student from Britain in Jerusalem's Old City. The two incidents appeared unrelated.
In the Tulkarem arrest raid, each side accused the other of opening fire first.
According to Palestinian witnesses, young Palestinians were sitting outdoors, snacking on sunflower seeds and chatting with a well-known militant leader when undercover Israeli troops jumped out of a Mercedes.
Palestinian witnesses said soldiers ordered everyone to stand up and shone a red laser at the group before opening fire. "A car came, and armed men got out and shot toward us. I was hit in the shoulder. They were wearing mostly white shirts," said Samer Murai, 15. He said a gunfight ensued, and several of his friends were also wounded.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said soldiers had come to arrest the group, and only fired after being shot at by the gunmen.
The Israeli army said all five had been armed militants. Among those killed was Adel Abu Khalil, 26, an Islamic Jihad leader who Israel said was involved in the Netanya attack and a February suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. But Palestinians said at least two of those killed were unarmed teenagers.
The militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades immediately vowed to take revenge.
"The Zionists should prepare ... bags to collect the remains of their soldiers and settlers because we are going to hit in the depths of the entity," said Abu Abdullah, an Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip.
Hours later, militants fired two homemade rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, the army said. There were no injuries or damage.
The raid was one of the bloodiest since Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire in February. The truce has brought a sharp drop in violence, although there have been sporadic flare-ups.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of undermining the truce. "This murder intentionally aims at renewing the vicious cycle of violence," he said.
Under the cease-fire, Israel handed Tulkarem to Palestinian security control in March. Since then, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have used the lull to regroup in Tulkarem, Israeli officials said. Israel reoccupied the town last month after a suicide bombing in the coastal town of Netanya.
"We have transferred authority over this city of Tulkarem and the surrounding villages to the Palestinian Authority and over a period of about three months, no action has been taken," said Gissin.
About 4,000 people attended a funeral for the five, with gunmen firing in the air.
Adding to the tensions, officials confirmed that Israel is expected to approve construction of a police station between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim, the largest West Bank settlement. Maaleh Adumim is about five miles east of Jerusalem.
It is not clear if the police station is the first step in a plan to eventually connect the settlement to Jerusalem — a move that the Palestinians have condemned as an attempt to cement its grip on the city. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank for a future independent state.
Israel eventually plans to build 3,500 housing units in the area.
The Palestinians say the development will effectively split the West Bank, making it virtually impossible to create a viable independent state. The United States, the main sponsor of the "road map" Mideast peace plan, has protested the construction.
The United Nations announced last week that the Quartet of mediators would meet on the sidelines of a U.N. summit from Sept. 14-16 to assess Israel's disengagement from Gaza.
On Thursday, Russia's foreign minister said the mediators would meet in New York on Sept. 20.
"Having emphasized the significance of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, we expressed our common opinion that this withdrawal should be completed in all its aspects in order to secure the possibility for existence of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank under Palestinian administration," Lavrov said.