Israeli Forces Kill 10 Islamic Militants

Israeli forces in the West Bank killed at least 10 suspected Islamic militants in two gun battles, one of them Friday morning in the battle-scarred Jenin refugee camp.

Backed by helicopter gunships and tanks, Israeli troops killed at least five gunmen from the Islamic Jihad group in a hideout in the camp. The army said a sixth person was killed, but Palestinians said the man was wounded and escaped.

The raid began just after daybreak Friday, with armored vehicles surrounding the house. Palestinians fired from the roof and from an adjacent alley, the army said. Troops returned fire, killing the men.

The militants had been standing watch over the camp throughout the night and had just returned to their hideout for breakfast and sleep when Israeli forces surrounded them, said a local Islamic Jihad leader, Sheik Bassam Saedi.

As part of a wide-ranging assault aimed a crushing violent Palestinian groups around the West Bank last April, Israeli forces flattened the center of the camp, and battles there killed 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers.

Earlier, on Thursday night, another Israeli force entered the nearby village of Tamoun to search for militants, and five Palestinians were killed in exchanges of fire. The military said at least three were from the Islamic Hamas group and were high on a list of fugitives.

Troops searching their hide-out turned up a belt of explosives, apparently to be worn by a suicide bomber. In both operations, soldiers also found M-16 and Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition stashed away, the army said.

Both Islamic groups have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in scores of suicide bombings and other attacks in more than 29 months of fighting.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli troops hunted for militants in remote hills of the southern West Bank. Two Israelis were mistakenly killed by a hail of gunfire and a missile fired by a helicopter.

Danny Yatom, an opposition lawmaker from the Labor Party, said the event showed soldiers use excessive force.

"The fact that the car was hit with 200 bullets, when there was only one person in the vehicle — even if he was suspected of being a terrorist — shows that there may have been an exaggerated use of fire," he told Army Radio Friday.

The two men who were killed, ages 22 and 23, were private guards keeping watch over a mobile phone antenna on a hill near the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Their white station wagon, which had red stickers in Hebrew with the words "security" on the sides and hood, was riddled with dozens of bullets.

One man was outside the car when he was killed by a helicopter-fired missile, military officials said.

The shooting around midday came after Israeli forces in the area received warnings that Palestinian gunmen were planning to attack the nearby Jewish settlement of Pnei Hever, the army said.

Elite troops lying in wait for armed Palestinians were told by a lookout post that a gunman had been spotted running toward a white car parked on a deserted hillside, Israeli military reporters said.

The man did not heed a call by soldiers to stop, the army said.

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski attributed the deaths to "an operational failure by the troops observing the area" from a nearby hill.

The firing on the two guards, one of them an Israeli army officer on leave, raised questions about the army's rules of engagement in Palestinian areas.

"We've said for a long time that the firing orders are too lax," said Lior Yavne, a spokesman for B'Tselem, an Israeli group that monitors Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "The soldiers see suspicious figures, fire first and ask questions later."

Yavne said dozens of unarmed Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire in the past 29 months of fighting, including those driving or walking near Israeli army checkpoints.

Maj. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said soldiers were on high alert at the time because of specific warnings about gunmen in the area.

"This was a tragic mistake, as in other incidents in which innocent people are killed on either side," she said.