WASHINGTON – Israeli troops raided a West Bank refugee camp Wednesday, killing a wanted Palestinian militant and forcing two others to surrender, the army said.
The raid came a day after Israeli police thwarted a suicide attack, chasing down the would-be bomber in a high-speed pursuit along one of Israel's major highways. Police said the bomber planned to blow himself up in central Israel days before Israel's March 28 elections.
Israeli troops entered the Aqwar Jaba refugee camp near the West Bank town of Jericho on Wednesday to arrest three suspected Islamic Jihad militants, the army said. The soldiers surrounded three houses and called on the suspects to come out, and two of the men surrendered.
Troops fired at one of the houses to get the remaining suspect to emerge, the army said. The soldiers then entered and saw a "suspicious figure" under mattresses and, thinking he was armed, fired and killed the man, officials said. No weapon was found, the army said.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian legislator for Jericho, condemned the killing, saying that Israeli raids and border closures were making life intolerable for the people of Jericho.
"This is part of an open war against the Palestinians," he said.
On Tuesday, police cars with sirens blazing and backed by helicopters chased down a van along the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, pulled out the suspected attacker and safely detonated the 15-pound bomb that was concealed in a bag, police said.
The suspected bomber had ties to Islamic Jihad which was responsible for all seven bombing attacks since a yearlong cease-fire took effect last March, police said. Islamic Jihad made no claim of responsibility.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli Ynet Web site that Iran was pushing Islamic Jihad to carry out an attack before Israel's election next week.
"We know that Iran transferred in the last month $1.8 million to the Islamic Jihad organization in order to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel," he said, without elaborating.
Palestinian attacks have altered the outcome of previous Israeli elections and a successful suicide bombing could weaken support for the centrist Kadima Party of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in the polls.
Jittery security forces extended a closure on the West Bank and Gaza border crossings through election day, preventing Palestinian workers from entering Israel. Israel has also greatly restricted movement through the Gaza Strip's main cargo crossing at Karni over the past two months — citing reports that Palestinians were planning attacks there — causing shortages of bread and other essential items in Gaza.
Under U.S. pressure, Israel allowed the Karni crossing to reopen sporadically over the last few days for imports into Gaza, and on Wednesday Israel opened an additional crossing into Gaza at Kerem Shalom to allow emergency food aid to enter from Egypt, Israeli officials said.
Egypt is sending the Palestinians 7,000 tons of food, mostly wheat, rice and sugar through Kerem Shalom, said Salim Abu Safiah, director-general of the Palestinian border authority.
The United States had pressed Israel to open the crossings during a meeting Sunday.
Palestinians have accused Israel of shutting Karni as a punishment following the militant Hamas' victory in Jan. 25 Palestinian elections.
After previously denying such allegations, an Israeli official on Tuesday confirmed that the Karni restrictions were partly intended to send a message to Hamas, though he also said the security threats were real. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Israel and the international community have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority — which would further cripple the Palestinian economy — if Hamas does not renounce violence and recognize Israel.