An Israeli soldier was killed Thursday in a gun battle with Palestinian militants in the West Bank city of Jenin. The military operation occurred as new polls indicate acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's election chances have been boosted by Israel's seizure of a Palestinian militant during a West Bank raid in the town of Jericho earlier this week.
The early morning raid in Jenin came after two Israeli security guards were wounded as they traveled in the West Bank. Israeli forces encountered heavy resistance as they searched several Jenin houses, searching for Palestinian militants belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad. An Israeli statement says, at least five Palestinians were arrested during the operation.
The Jenin raid came two days after a large Israeli force raided the Jericho jail, and seized six militants, including Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Saadat and his associates were wanted by Israel for their involvement in the assassination of Israel's tourism minister in 2001.
In his first public comments on the action, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel acted alone, and had no contact before the raid with British or U.S. authorities, who were responsible for monitoring the prisoners under an international agreement.
Mr. Olmert says he told his commanders to take as long as necessary to carry out the operation, which he says was designed to capture Ahmed Saadat alive. He says Israel's goal was to bring the militants to trial and minimize casualties.
The operation has proved hugely popular with Israelis, who vote in general elections March 28. A political poll released on Thursday indicates that the so-called Jericho effect has given a boost to Mr. Olmert's Kadima party, which was already holding a substantial lead over its main rivals, the Labor and Likud parties. The poll indicates Kadima could gain an additional six seats in the 120-seat Israeli Knesset since the Jericho operation.
For their part, Palestinians continue to condemn the raid. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Israeli action a crime. Other senior Palestinian figures have said the raid was clearly designed to help Mr. Olmert win the Israeli election, something Israeli officials have strongly denied.